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Maryland’s next governor must broaden access to health care | READER COMMENTARY

Maryland Gov.-elect Wes Moore was joined by incoming Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller, at the University of Maryland in College Park as they shared their plans for her chairing his “transition and transformation team.”

As surgeons, we diagnose a problem, propose a surgical solution and execute a technically excellent operation — all in service of achieving the best outcome for the patient in front of us. Caring for Marylanders from all walks of life, we regularly see that the ability of our patients to recover fully is beyond any single nurse, physician or hospital. Laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are systemic shortcomings in the existing Maryland health care system. With the election of Wes Moore, it is clear that voters recognized the need for a candidate with both a vision and a plan for improving the health of Marylanders

Though recent large-scale reforms to health care have occurred at the federal level, we strongly believe that health care is local. The next governor of Maryland must be aware, engaged and committed to policies aimed at expanding health care access and eliminating the inequities that exist in health care. While Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act improved health care access in Maryland, nearly 400,000 residents remain uninsured according to 2021 data from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. We believe the Moore administration, which includes Lt. Governor Aruna Miller, recognizes this issue and has outlined multiple strategies to further enhance access to high quality care in their “A Healthy Maryland Today” plan.

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As health policy researchers, we are encouraged by the Moore-Miller plan’s discussion of health cost control measures. Building on recent federal prescription drug pricing controls built into the Inflation Reduction Act, the nascent Moore-Miller administration seeks to use the state’s purchasing power to negotiate better costs for Marylanders. This will bolster innovative efforts in place across the state, such as Maryland’s Prescription Drug Affordability Board, which is taking a multi-faceted approach to ensuring citizens have access to lifesaving medications.

The “A Healthy Maryland Today” plan is also notable for its willingness to build on progress that Maryland has already made. Specifically, The Maryland Commission on Health Equity was signed into law in 2021 — the governor-elect has acknowledged this important initiative and proposes to build upon this foundation. In our role as surgeons in Baltimore, we have witnessed firsthand the health disparities that exist in the community. While focusing on the delivery of care within the four walls of our hospital is important, we must also ensure that we tackle the structural inequities that are grounded in historically discriminatory policies of the past such as redlining, in order to truly be effective. In the same vein, we hope Governor-elect Moore will prioritize his proposed measures on violence prevention, particularly those focusing on firearm-related violence. As the Moore-Miller team has stated in “A Healthy Maryland Today,” gun violence is a public health crisis. To combat this crisis, we need multi-faceted community-based programs targeting violence prevention, robust efforts to promote safe firearm storage, and education around firearm safety.

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We are heartened by the explicit note in “A Healthy Maryland Today” describing the importance of including rural communities in all state-level health care policy. While the specific challenges may look different in rural Maryland versus in Baltimore, a person’s ZIP code should not dictate whether or not they are able to access high quality, affordable health care.

Governor-elect Moore campaigned with purpose and elaborated a clear vision for health care in our state. As front-line health care professionals, we are genuinely excited to have in place a detailed blueprint for improving the health of Marylanders and cannot wait to see the Moore-Miller administration get started.

— Tej D. Azad and Joseph V. Sakran, Baltimore

The writers are surgeons with Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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