Health debate echoes locally

The Baltimore Sun

The health care access plan for uninsured residents that Howard County Ken Ulman plans to announce Tuesday is linked to the national debate on the State Children's Health Insurance Program now playing out in Washington, according to county officials and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who met with Ulman on Friday.

"It's an incredibly important piece of the access to health care," Ulman said.

Although Ulman hasn't released many details of his plan, he and the county's health officer, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, stressed that enrolling more uninsured county residents in existing federal and state programs is an important part of their strategy.

Mikulski said "the healthy Howard County initiative is based on this triad":

Use all available federal financing to provide health care to the uninsured.

Incorporate programs available to the state and other opportunities.

Obtain philanthropic dollars.

"My role is to make sure the federal programs are intact, because they are the anchor to the healthy county initiative," she said. That's why she wants Congress to override President Bush's veto of a $35 billion expansion of the SCHIP program.

The president argued that the bill is too costly and would promote government-run health insurance.

Beilenson said that if Bush gets his way, "there will actually be a net decrease in the number of kids who are going to be getting the children's health initiative services, and that makes it harder for us to do our program."

Ulman also noted that Gov. Martin O'Malley has talked about expanding coverage under the state's Medicaid program, which would help the county plan.

"The more people ... covered [at] the federal and the state level, the less the gap is at the local level," he said.

Conversely, Mikulski said, plans like Howard's will help nationally, too.

"At the end of the first year, I think we'll have something we can take to the federal government as we look at national health care," she said. "What can we learn from local communities and the states, which are laboratories of innovation?"

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