GBC’s Fry: Access to Health Care

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

In Maryland, 740,000 people – more than 14 percent of our state’s population – live without some type of health insurance.

A closer look at the statistics about Maryland’s uninsured is revealing, however. Approximately 110,000 of those uninsured Marylanders earn incomes of more than $87,000 – six times the federal poverty level. Another 160,000 earn between $43,000 and $87,000.

It’s clear that, when it comes to health care and uninsured Marylanders, there are two separate issues – those who don’t have health insurance because they can’t afford it; and those who choose not to have it, even though they can afford it.

The state clearly has an obligation to provide health care to the most vulnerable of its residents. But the tens of thousands among us who earn decent wages, but do not purchase a health plan are not helping the cause of the less fortunate. Instead, they are needlessly driving the cost of health care up for everyone.

That’s why it’s a good idea, as many are proposing in Annapolis this year, to give those who earn decent livings an incentive to purchase health insurance — or a disincentive not to.

Proposals by the Greater Baltimore Committee and others to make health insurance more readily available to employees of small businesses, and to reward employers who implement risk assessment and wellness programs at work, also make a lot of sense.

The cost – approximately $175-200 million — for the state to implement such proposals and expand Medicaid coverage to more of the needy is, of course, an issue in Annapolis. But let’s hope that the ultimate fate of these ideas is decided among the General Assembly’s lawmakers more by the measure of the cost-benefit ratio rather than just the cost.

This common-sense approach to expanding health care is an issue more than worthy of the time and the best creative efforts of the state’s elected leaders. It’s an issue worth resolving sooner, rather than later.

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President& CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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