- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2007

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (AP) — Howard County is expected to offer health care to all uninsured residents, officials plan to announce next month.

Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, Howard”s health officer and the plan”s primary architect, said the plan will be designed so it can be converted for use in counties elsewhere in the state and nation.

“The opportunity to deliver affordable access to those in our community in the wealthiest county in the wealthiest state in the wealthiest country is something we ought to be able to do, and we”re pretty close,” County Executive Ken Ulman told the Baltimore Sun this week.

Under the proposal, uninsured residents of any age would pay a small fee for access to primary health care, using a participating doctor or clinic instead of hospital emergency rooms. Only Howard County residents will be eligible, Mr. Ulman said.

Howard County”s plan will combine money from participants, businesses, foundations and government — mostly funds already in the health care system, Dr. Beilenson said. Mr. Ulman said some county funding might be required. Dr. Beilenson said the county plan will not require employer participation.

According to federal studies, 18,800 to 27,000 of the county”s estimated 272,452 residents don”t have health insurance, Dr. Beilenson said.

“Eighty-four percent of working people work in small businesses that don”t have [health] insurance,” Mr. Ulman said. “Some of this is just being creative with what is existing — much of it, in fact.”

Key to the Howard plan is the participation of Chase-Brexton Health Services, which is based in Baltimore. It treats about 1,000 uninsured patients at its Columbia clinic and is able to expand, said David H. Shippee, the nonprofit”s executive director. He has been discussing the proposal with officials for months.

County officials “have to refine the specific population they really want to care for,” Mr. Shippee said. “The initial idea is to take care of anybody working and uninsured.”

Unresolved issues include enrollment and how to deal with family dependents, he said. The Howard plan will not involve seniors or those on Medicare.

“We want this to be replicable,” Dr. Beilenson said. “No matter what comes out of this, we”re close enough to a final version that I can say, ‘This is not just something a wealthy county can do. This is something that pretty much any county in Maryland can do.”

“This is meant to be a model. It is not a panacea,” he said. But without a federal or state comprehensive plan, “we feel the county can do something.”

The plan is scheduled to be formally announced on Oct. 16. It would take about a year to implement, Dr. Beilenson said.

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