Gov. Larry Hogan has a proven track record of innovative and bipartisan leadership on the health care issue. Under his direction, Maryland’s unique Medicare All Payer hospital waiver was extended, leading to increased care coordination and decreased health care costs. Mr. Hogan’s team also oversaw a Federal 1332 waiver application and approval to stabilize the Maryland Health Insurance Exchange. That waiver, combined with Mr. Hogan’s approval of the General Assembly’s wise action to pass a reinsurance bill last year, has helped cut premiums in the individual market by 30 percent. Governor Hogan has now been given yet another opportunity to improve health care in Maryland with two pieces of bipartisan landmark legislation that have landed on his desk for consideration.
The first bill responds to the disturbing reality that many Marylanders simply cannot afford necessary prescription drugs. We hear story after story about skyrocketing drug costs and families who go without the medications they need. Even so, Congress has failed to act.
That’s why the Maryland General Assembly stepped up to pass a bill that will begin to bring down the costs of some of the most expensive drugs. This bill creates the nation’s first Prescription Drug Affordability Board, which will serve the public by reviewing drug costs in the state and setting fair and affordable maximum costs for certain drugs. The board, with the approval of top legislative leaders, will have the authority to establish maximum costs that state and local governments pay for certain expensive drugs they buy for their employees.
Soaring drug costs for employees are eating up a rising share of state and local spending. By bringing down the costs of some expensive drugs, the board will help government agencies save money on drugs and free up additional tax funding to pay for other priorities, such as education. The board will also carefully assess drug costs in the state and make recommendations to policymakers about how to do more to make drugs more affordable overall, an important step forward.
While we have steadily enrolled more people in health insurance in Maryland thanks to the Affordable Care Act, far too many people here still go without coverage. The second bill passed in Annapolis creates a new way to help uninsured Marylanders enroll in an affordable health plan at tax time — by checking a box on their state tax return.
Under the new system established by the legislation, a consumer seeking help can have information on their tax form go directly to the state health insurance exchange. Those tax filers who qualify for Medicaid will be enrolled automatically. The exchange will reach out to people who don’t qualify for Medicaid with information about insurance plans that could work for their family — including information about subsidies that can make insurance premiums far more affordable. This commonsense plan reduces red tape and makes it much more convenient for busy Marylanders to get the health coverage they need.
The program, Maryland’s Easy Enrollment Health Insurance Program, is expected to lead to tens of thousands of Marylanders signing up for coverage. This will expand the pool of people who are insured, which reduces premiums for other enrollees.
Physicians are on the front lines of health care, treating people from all walks of life. Far too often, they encounter patients who aren’t getting the care they need. Many patients struggle to pay for the medications they rely on to lead healthy lives, while others lack health insurance. These bipartisan bills, backed by a statewide coalition of hundreds of organizations and a legislators who worked tirelessly to pass them, address real dilemmas Maryland patients face daily.
The legislation builds on Maryland’s tradition of being a leader in health care reform. National groups are already hailing the two bills passed in Maryland as models for other states. With Governor Hogan’s signature, we will build on our progress this year toward our goal of making prescription drugs affordable and health care more attainable for all Marylanders.
Gene M. Ransom III is CEO of MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @GeneRansom.