Health care commission for Md. moves up deadline


The commission charged with getting a grip on medical costs and expanding health insurance coverage in Maryland began work yesterday by demanding completion of a crucial part of its task a month ahead of schedule.

The Health Care Access and Cost Commission said it must have a proposed standard benefits package by Nov. 1 -- not Dec. 1 as previously announced -- if it is to meet the legislature's demand that expanded coverage be available by July 1, 1994. Participating insurers will be required to offer the health care coverage to small businesses in the state.

The commission will be aided by a staff of 27 and a first-year budget of $2.7 million.

The costs will be covered initially by the state and later under a system of user fees.

The chairman of the commission, Dr. William C. Richardson, president of the Johns Hopkins University, said the panel is appropriately named because "all of the citizens of our state have a right to access to health care at an affordable price."

He said he hopes the commission can help to shape a health care "market infused with fairness in which consumers and providers can make rational judgments."

Operating under a law passed during the last General Assembly, the commission has broad authority over physicians and other health care practitioners, including the power to regulate the procedures they perform and, potentially, the fees they can charge for their services.

Dr. Richardson announced the appointment of a task force to recommend the standard benefits package.

He also announced a second team of experts that will develop a medical data base -- information on fees and procedures.

L This information has been called a key to controlling costs.

In a meeting yesterday in state health department offices at 4201 Patterson Ave., Dr. Richardson told an audience of about 125 government and industry officials and lobbyists that the panel's mandate "cannot be achieved overnight." But, citing "the burden of acting with speed," Dr. Richardson asked the standard benefits panel to finish its work a month early.

The standard benefits task force will hold its first meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday in the offices of Mid- Atlantic Medical Services Inc. in Rockville.

The company is the parent organization to M.D.IPA, one of the largest health maintenance organizations in Maryland. The company's vice president for government affairs and its lobbyist in Annapolis, Thomas P. Barbera, is co-chairman of the task force.

Members of the commission were given large binders filled with data ranging from standards for evaluating HMOs to copies of standard benefits packages that have been devised in other states.

Dr. Richardson told the audience, "We'll be listening hard to be sure we move forward in a cooperative style . . . with integrity and with a decision-making process that is open and fair."

The commission's next meeting will be in the same location on Aug. 17.

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