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Costly SettlementYour Sept. 7 article about the...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Costly Settlement

Your Sept. 7 article about the cost of settlements for Maryland homebuyers was right on point on an issue that touches every current or prospective Maryland homeowner. Our extraordinarily high housing cost make it difficult to find decent, affordable housing.

Many studies have demonstrated that the American Dream of homeownership creates stability and pride in local communities. Realtors have long made it a priority objective to assist low- and moderate-income homebuyers in finding affordable housing.

We've done this on several fronts:

At the national level, we have fought for the vitality of the FHA program. We strongly support proposed legislation to raise the base and maximum loan limits for this program, which will open this lower cost alternative to homebuyers in expensive markets such as those in many areas of Maryland.

The Housing Reauthorization Bill now before the U.S. Senate provides this critical help. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, a longtime

advocate of affordable housing programs, has once again supported these changes to make FHA more accessible. We look forward to his continued support when the Senate reconvenes and takes up the issue.

For five years, the Maryland Association of Realtors has supported legislation to make semiannual property tax collection mandatory. We are one of only two states that require lump sum payment in advance of property taxes, a key reason we rank so high in closing costs.

Moving to a semiannual payment is estimated to reduce cash required at settlement by hundreds of dollars.

The General Assembly has passed legislation permitting counties to adopt semiannual payments, but to date, only Harford, Baltimore City and Frederick counties have done so. We are hopeful that more jurisdictions will follow suit.

Estimates of the increased surveying costs arising from the board's action vary, but even the low end ($500-$600) is more than half the savings homebuyers will realize under a semiannual tax provision.

We hope that the board will rethink its action. The additional costs from this regulation far exceed the alleged benefit, but the damage to real estate and homebuyers extends to anyone seeking to buy a home in Maryland.

-! We simply cannot afford that.

Mary A. Fruscello

Annapolis

The writer is executive vice president, Maryland Association of Realtors.

Parent Volunteers

While the Baltimore police take the "high profile" role of

hunting for hooky-playing students (The Sun, Sept. 9), don't play parent volunteers too cheap.

Consider Commodore John Rodgers Elementary School No. 27. Principal Willie Grier Jr. began his truancy program six years ago with the help of a grant from the Fund for Educational Excellence. Today his parent volunteers continue to keep the school's attendance rate above 95 percent, making the school one of the top 10 schools in attendance last year.

Consider Collington Square Elementary School No. 97, a participant in the Fund's Family and School Partnership program. Parent volunteers working closely with the principal and staff made last year's attendance jump to 94 percent from 89.4 percent the previous year.

Then there's Curtis Bay Elementary, and Park Heights Elementary, and Federal Hill Elementary, and on and on. So maybe it's not so much that these types of programs have quietly disappeared, but simply that the spotlight has quietly turned elsewhere.

Patrice T. Conwell

Baltimore

The writer is a public relations associate with the Fund for Educational Excellence.

Elzee Gladden

The death of Dr. Elzee Charles Gladden leaves an enormous void in the life of the Monumental City. His work in particular at the Paul Laurence Dunbar School transformed the lives of innumerable Poets in a remarkable manner.

In short, Dr. Gladden made winners of many youths who were programmed for failure through his incisive intellect, warm and engaging manner, unwavering love for children and youths and fidelity to demonstrable excellence. He was, to be sure, an educator's educator.

Dr. Gladden, too, during his tenure (1982-1992) as principal of Dunbar, his alma mater, transformed Dunbar from what was perceived by so many as an "athletic factory" into a center for serious learning and scholarship. Students were led through his avuncular, diplomatic and adroit teachings and example to believe that they could soar to the heights. A genuine and felicitous blend was established between academics and athletics.

Those who value the world of ideas and the power of education in the Baltimore public schools and in the larger community are diminished by Dr. Gladden's death. His untimely leaving evokes "thoughts which do often lie too deep for tears."

Samuel L. Banks

Baltimore

Apology Demanded

I am so weary of the mean-spirited cartoons of your KAL. I wonder if he dreams up these offerings at the direction of your editors.

Not only are they mean spirited but hurtful to many people. The Sept. 9 cartoon of Pope John Paul II is inexcusable. At a time when thousands of your readers are anticipating the October visit of the pontiff to Baltimore, you give us KAL's weird sense of humor. You owe an apology to thousands of your readers.

C. Virginia Guidmore

Baltimore

No Free Market in Medicine Today

Garry Wills is correct ("Loss and Gain on Health Care", Aug. 30).

Even while health care reform is pronounced dead in Congress, a radical restructing of American medicine is already well advanced in the private sector, the so-called free market.

What he fails to mention is that the emerging system would probably not have been chosen by either patients or physicians.

Both however have allowed it to happen: patients who expected medical care with minimal out of pocket expense; physicians who thought they could charge what they want and be sure of getting it. Both are now learning the painful lesson that markets just don't work this way.

In fact, there is no free market in medicine today. Instead, we have a free market in health insurance and health care financing.

In this market, the buyers and sellers are not patients and physicians, but large employers and insurance companies, to whom patients and physicians long ago ceded their economic autonomy.

In this market, patients' health care choices and physicians' professional activities are increasingly subject to the economic decisions of large, investor-owned corporations accountable only to their stockholders. Is this the health care system we want?

Free market capitalism is great for things like commodities or consumer products, where buyer and seller are equal, autonomous entities. But with professional services like medical care, we are dealing not with informed consumers but with vulnerable subjects.

You go to a doctor when you're sick.

You go to a lawyer when you're in trouble.

You seek out a professional with specialized knowledge and experience not available to you.

You trust him to make the right decision for you. This kind of trust is only possible if the doctor or lawyer is working solely in your interest.

It's not possible if his allegiance is divided between you and a group of stockholders who expect, and deserve, a reasonable return on their investment.

We cannot reform or redesign our health care system until we decide what health care is: commodity, consumer product or community service.

If it's a commodity, then quality is not an issue; buying and selling decisions are based simply on price.

If it is a consumer product, it will be sold to those who can afford it, through advertising, promotion or other marketing techniques.

If it's a community service, then a just and civilized society will make sure it's available to all citizens at reasonable cost -- just like police and fire protection, education or basic utilities.

It will not be left to an unregulated free market, certainly not one dominated by large, investor owned corporations.

When I was in medical school 25 years ago, planners spoke derisively of American medicine as "still organized like a cottage industry." Now we are seeing the equivalent of the Industrial Revolution.

If we believe that medical care is a commodity or consumer product, then we're on the right track.

If we believe instead that medical care is both a professional service and an essential community service, then we're in trouble.

Only a government-financed single-payer system or a regulated all-payer system can give us the health care we need.

Maurice B. Furlong Jr., M.D.

Baltimore

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