On few issues are the differences between Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Gov. Robert Ehrlich starker than on health care. Since taking office in January of 2007, Governor O'Malley has fought to enact, and worked to fully implement, laws which have expanded health care to over 200,000 parents, children and seniors. He also strongly supports the new federal health reform legislation, which will expand health care to over 30 million Americans, including hundreds of thousands of Marylanders, and save our state over $800 million in health care costs.
In contrast, Mr. Ehrlich opposed our new state health care laws that have brought Maryland from 44th to 16th in the nation in health care coverage for lower income adults. He has also called for repeal of the new federal health care law — which includes tax credits to help small businesses afford health care and provisions that will allow young people to stay on their parents' health insurance until age 26.
Governor O'Malley made sure that Maryland's health care expansions are fully funded without burdening the state's overall budget. He has made use of federal matching dollars, unused uncompensated hospital care savings, and a $1 per pack cigarette tax increase enacted in 2007. Since the cigarette tax passed, 74 million fewer packs of cigarettes have been sold in Maryland, and the state now has the sixth lowest smoking rate in the nation. Mr. Ehrlich opposed this life-saving measure.
Governor O'Malley pushed for the health care reforms and the tobacco tax increase because they help thousands of Marylanders get health care and stop (or not start) smoking and because they make health care more affordable for all of us. According to Families USA, families who pay health insurance premiums see $1,000 per year from these premiums go to cover health care costs of the uninsured. We can reduce the burden of this "hidden health care tax" we all pay by expanding health care coverage to the uninsured. And by reducing smoking, we will substantially reduce health care costs resulting from tobacco caused illnesses and hospitalization.
We at the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative do not endorse candidates, and we are proud of the fact that Democrats and Republicans supported Governor O'Malley's 2007 health care expansion legislation. But, we have an obligation at election time to inform voters about how candidates stand on key health care issues. That is why we are airing radio ads describing the differences between Martin O'Malley and Bob Ehrlich on health care. If Mr. Ehrlich were to change his position and endorse the federal and state health care laws enacted over the past few years, we would stop airing these ads and praise him for doing so. If not, we would have no choice but to do everything we can to make sure Maryland voters know how the two candidates for governor stand on this key issue.
Vinnie DeMarco, Baltimore
The writer is president of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative.