Bill would allow much-restricted health policies


ANNAPOLIS -- The latest estimates show there are about 570,000 people in Maryland without insurance, and Delegate Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, will submit a bill today that aims to do something about it.

The legislation, the result of extensive negotiations between Mr. Taylor and members of a coalition of business and labor groups, would allow insurers to offer a stripped-down health-insurance package that does not include most of the 32 mandated benefits that state law currently requires.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland Inc. recently estimated that such a package could cost 40 percent to 50 percent as much as the average standard group policy.

"It would certainly be more financially feasible for me," said pharmacist David B. Liebman, owner of Kaye's AID Pharmacy on Belair Road in Baltimore, "and I could offer it as an inducement" to prospective employees. Mr. Liebman uses his wife's plan, and his employees are left to their own devices because of the high costs of insurance packages offered to him.

The bill would limit the basic-benefits plan to companies that dTC have not offered any insurance plan for the previous 12 months and that have two to 25 employees. Companies could offer the plan for only three years, after which the hope is that they would change to a better plan.

What Mr. Taylor and the coalition members put together "is in essence an incubator policy, and therefore after three years people will be stepped up into a policy that has all of the presently mandated benefits," said Fran Tracy, a lobbyist for Blue Cross.

The bill is certain to raise protests from physicians and other health-care providers, many of whose services would not be offered under the basic-benefits plan.

And Janelle Cousino, executive director of Maryland Citizen Action Coalition, said her group is concerned that the bill does "not have a clear plan for how to get people onto a regular program in three years."

Ms. Cousino also noted that the product Blue Cross touted in a briefing in December would cost about the same -- $65 to $150 a month for individuals -- as many health-maintenance organization policies that offer most of the state's mandated benefits.

The overall plan reflects recommendations of the Governor's Commission on Health Care Policy and Financing, also known as the Feinblatt Commission. But the Feinblatt plan specified more benefits that should be included in a basic policy, such as mammograms, Pap smears, child immunization and acute mental-health and substance-abuse care.

The Taylor bill also would limit physician outpatient visits to 10 a year; the Feinblatt plan would place no limits on such visits.

"We're going to suggest that the bill be amended to include those things," said Bruce Martin, a legislative aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer. He added that the governor does not plan to introduce his own basic-benefits plan but will work with Mr. Taylor on his bill.

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