Health Initiative launched

January 15, 2001

Health Initiative launched

By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

Brenda LaughlinSince having a stroke in 1995, Brenda Laughlin of Hagerstown has learned the complex ups and downs of health insurance.


She has found that disabled people under 65 years old don't have many choices in their coverage.

The medications she gets are the ones she can afford.

"I make choices between buying prescriptions and paying the bills," she said, "and I have to pay the bills first."

The Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, a nonprofit advocacy group, will hear stories like Laughlin's at a series of "Health Care for All" town meetings across the state.

The intent of the Health Initiative is to develop a health care proposal and present it to the Maryland General Assembly by next January.


The first forum will be at Hagerstown Community College's Advanced Technology Center, Room 132, on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Consultants from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, the University of Maryland Law School and the Georgetown University Medical Center will talk briefly about the Initiative's grassroots effort, said Spring Ward, a spokeswoman for the League of Women Voters' Washington County Unit, a local co-sponsor.

The rest of the evening will be devoted to citizens' stories - "their concerns and their potential solutions," Ward said.

Carol Antoniewicz of Frederick, Md., a medical social worker for nine years in Hagerstown, said she has seen "many people without insurance or with only a certain percentage of insurance."

As a Health Initiative volunteer, she has spoken and handed out literature about the project for 10 months.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 42 million Americans had no health insurance in 1999.

The Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative states that more than 830,000 Marylanders don't have insurance, including 100,000 children.

Laughlin, 47, a former social worker who had other illnesses in her 20s and 30s, said she'd like to see "health care for all, where we all have the same access to the same benefits."

After her stroke, Laughlin lost her job as a mental health counselor. Her car was repossessed and her condominium was foreclosed on, she said.

She tried to switch her insurance to an individual plan, but she couldn't afford the $450 monthly cost. She wasn't eligible for another plan because of her pre-existing medical condition.

Despite nominal help from welfare payments, "I could have been homeless," Laughlin said. "I got Social Security disability (coverage) on the first try, which is very rare."

Additional life insurance disability coverage expired last year.

Now, she receives $864 a month from Social Security, of which she pays $271 for Medicare.

She has had trouble navigating a maze of red tape. Some of her experiences have been good, and others haven't.

"If you've worked all your life and you're on Social Security disability," she said, "then you're over income for a lot of health care help, like prescription coverage that people on welfare are eligible for."

People who don't attend Wednesday's forum can submit testimony through the Health Initiative's Web site at or by calling Antoniewicz at 301-473-4816.

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