Richardson's Health-Care Mission


Gov. William Donald Schaefer last week handed the president of Johns Hopkins University an enormous task: writing the rules for revamping much of Maryland's health-care industry. Yet if anyone is up to this assignment, it is William C. Richardson.

Dr. Richardson not only focused on health-services management for his MBA and doctorate, he has studied and written extensively on medical care for the poor, health maintenance organizations and the cost-effectiveness of primary-care network models. He is a health economist by training. In the state of Washington, he made decisions on purchasing health insurance for state workers and led a blue-ribbon panel on uncompensated medical treatment, whose work paved the way for that state's own health-care reforms this spring.

And as president of Johns Hopkins University for the past three years, Dr. Richardson has gained an understanding of the local health-care scene, both from the medical point of view and the financial and administrative perspectives.

Now comes the challenge of applying all these skills and experiences. As chairman of the new seven-member Maryland Health Access and Cost Commission created by the General Assembly this spring, Dr. Richardson must lead the group in formulating a basic health-insurance benefits package for small businesses that is comprehensive enough to cover most medical-care needs but still affordable and attractive to local employers.

Even more important, his panel has to develop a massive medical cost data base encompassing all the tests and procedures Maryland doctors perform. This is crucial so the commission can understand what is driving up health-care expenses as it sets limits on how much physicians and other health practitioners can charge.

Yet even as the Richardson commission plunges into this brave, new world of health care reforms and cost containment, developments in Washington will affect what happens here. Dr. Richardson expects the state's programs to be up and running well before any federal changes are in place, giving the %o commission and the legislature time to adjust.

The new commission and the just-named state insurance commissioner, Dwight K. Bartlett III, must work closely in implementing the complex health care initiative approved by the legislature in April. Done properly, Maryland could create a model health-insurance program for small businesses that is so successful large employers insist on signing up. At the same time, the Richardson commission has a rare opportunity to identify the local causes of rising health-care costs and to clamp down on medical fees that are clearly excessive and harmful to the Maryland consumer.

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