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Group aims to reform health care

November 23, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

The number of Marylanders with no health insurance soared to 837,000 in 1998 and many others are underinsured, according to health care advocates who want to do something about the situation.

The Maryland Citizens Health Initiative Education Fund (MCHIEF) plans to work for change, beginning at the grassroots level.

Vincent DeMarco, MCHIEF executive director, was in Washington County Tuesday to meet with representatives of the Health Department, the Center for Poverty Solutions and the League of Women Voters.

"Maryland is poised to be a national leader in health care reform," DeMarco said, predicting that a plan to provide services to the uninsured and underinsured could be in place by 2003.

"A total of 31 percent of Marylanders have been denied medically necessary health care," DeMarco said. "And those figures are higher in Western Maryland."

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About 55 percent of the families in Washington County have complete insurance coverage, according to Dr. Robert Parker, health officer for Washington County.

"I just got some new figures Monday that show that 70 percent of the uninsured in Washington County are working people," Parker said.

The uninsured and underinsured tend to go to hospital emergency rooms where costs are highest, or to free clinics where services are stretched to capacity, Parker said.

Gail McDowell of the League of Women Voters in Washington County signed a declaration Tuesday, joining more than 100 other organizations and pledging to fight for better health care.

"The need is there and we support your efforts," McDowell said.

Locally, the League joins the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92 Locals 1833 and 3674, the Washington County Health Department and Tri-State Community Health Center in supporting comprehensive reform.

DeMarco presented a study by a Washington, D.C., consulting firm Tuesday that shows Western Marylanders believe there is no longer a dependable connection between health care coverage and work.

They also have concerns about the deterioration of the traditional doctor-patient relationship, citing the belief that managed care companies are making decisions that should be made by a physician, the study showed.

Health care for the very old and the very young is another area where Western Marylanders feel the care is inadequate, the study showed.

Washington County is the eighth largest county in Maryland with a population that is 15 percent elderly.

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