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To fix Maryland health care, start with uninsured children

June 01, 2007

The Associated Press this week reported that Maryland lawmakers have begun work on another effort to reform the state's health-care system.

If "beginning work" means talking about it, well then, yes, they did begin work.

But even if we accept that the legislators have the best of intentions, that's not enough, particularly when expert witnesses pointed out that there is no agreement on which problem the legislature wants to solve.

As Dr. Rex Cowdry, executive director of the Maryland Health Care Commission told lawmakers Tuesday, there isn't a defined goal that's been set.

"What's our goal? Is our goal near-universal coverage? If so, I think we have to realize that's an expensive goal to reach," Cowdry said.

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The danger is that with the state facing a $1.5 billion deficit, lawmakers will decide that because they can't do everything at once, nothing is possible.

We reject that idea, as we did in April. If Maryland can't bring all of its uninsured citizens into the tent, it should at least make provisions to cover more of those children who lack coverage.

Whatever feelings you have about the poor life choices that have brought the indigent to their present state, it is unfair to blame their children for being born into poverty-stricken families.

The children we're talking about did not choose to drop out of school, get pregnant while still in their teens or engage in alcohol and/or drug abuse.

Accidents of birth brought them to the place where they are now. And although this might not go down well with taxpaying citizens, making sure poor children get medical care now will save everyone money in the long run.

How many children are we talking about? In March, The (Baltimore) Daily Record reported that there are 800,000 uninsured Marylanders, 135,000 of them children.

We strongly suggest that the legislature's goal should be covering those children, because 135,000 children will be easier to find funds for than 665,000 adults.

In addition, most children won't have chronic conditions made worse by years of bad habits and poor diets. Children will benefit most from preventative care.

Where will the money come from?

That's a fair question, but one with an easy answer - legalized slot machines at the state's horse tracks. Slot opponents will not only have to deal with those who seek to balance Maryland's budget, but with those who will view them as too stingy to provide medical care for babies from poverty-stricken families.

House Speaker Michael Busch, who has been the chief impediment to legalization of slots, needs to be lobbied hard to step up, as he did when the state's trauma system needed fixing.

Busch's involvement was sparked in part by the fact that in 2002, a family member involved in a Delaware car crash was saved by a Maryland-trained trauma doctor.

Busch needs to be persuaded now that the Maryland children who need help aren't just those who've been injured in car accidents.

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