- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

Universal health care — financed, in part, by mandatory employer contributions and a 70 percent increase in the state tobacco tax — would become law in Maryland within five years under a plan pushed by a liberal advocacy group.
The Maryland Citizens' Health Care Initiative is pressing candidates in the state's 2002 election to support the proposal, which a business group says will drive thousands of jobs to other states.
A draft of the plan is being released today for public review.
But the plan's outline, and particularly the means to achieve it, got little encouragement from Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
"I'm not for any tax increase whatsoever," said Mr. Miller, a Democrat who represents parts of Calvert, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties. "Now's the time to husband our resources and trim our spending. We have enough Big Brother in government as it is now."
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. praised the group's effort, but called their proposal "pie in the sky."
"To attempt to guarantee universal coverage … as a one-state island is fundamentally ill-advised," said Mr. Taylor, Allegany County Democrat. He added that there's little expectation that the federal government, which controls much of the funding, would go along with it.
Universal coverage as proposed by the Maryland Citizens' Health Care Initiative would be created in two phases.
First, the plan would expand the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides health coverage to working low-income families not covered under Medicaid. And it would create a new quasi-state agency called the Maryland Healthcare Trust.
Together, the expanded program and trust would make subsidized coverage available to uninsured Maryland residents at the added cost of about $1 billion annually, proponents said.
A fifth of the cost could be funded by revenues from a higher tobacco tax. About $800 million each year would come from payments the state would require from employers, beneficiaries who'd be charged pro-rated premiums, cost-shifting, bulk prescription-drug purchases and other savings, advocates said.
By 2006, all Marylanders — regardless of need — would be required to get health coverage from government-subsidized programs or private insurers.
The initiative's director, Vincent DeMarco, defended the mandate, which would apply even to wealthy residents who can afford not to be insured. "The current system is horrible for the uninsured, but bad for everybody," he said. "Donald Trump has to pay Social Security. When there's a public need, you have to consider required participation."
But a study sponsored by Maryland Business for Responsive Government (MBRG) that is being released this week models universal health care proposals and contends any such plan will drive thousands of jobs from Maryland to nearby states.
The group projects 30,000 to 117,000 jobs could be lost. It also said such measures could mean increased taxation equivalent to a 13 percent to 233 percent jump in the personal income tax.
Mr. DeMarco said the group has no projections about what jobs might be lost in Maryland, but he said some businesses backing the plan have told him they'd like to offer health care benefits but can't get affordable coverage.
Robert O.C. Worcester, president of MBRG, said the real agenda is to create a government insurer, based on the Canadian health system, that would eliminate private insurers.
Mr. DeMarco said that is not the goal and that his group is not pursuing a single-payer plan.
Reliance on a tobacco tax designed to cause people to quit smoking means more money will have to come from other sources, Mr. Worcester said.
Evidence shows some tobacco users won't quit regardless of a higher tax, and the proposal takes into account changes in those revenues, Mr. DeMarco said.
Proponents of the Maryland Citizens' Health Care Initiative (MCHCI) approach said they believe public participation in designing specifics of their proposal will help get it adopted.
MCHCI will hold public meetings in October and November to hear public reaction.

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