Lt. Governor Brown Testifies on Behalf of Administration's Bill to Reduce Health Disparities

Legislation Would Create Pilot Program of Innovative Health Enterprise Zones


ANNAPOLIS, Md. (February 29, 2012) – This week, Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown testified before the House Health & Government Operations Committee and the Senate Finance and Budget & Taxation Committees in support of the O’Malley-Brown Administration’s Health Improvement and Disparities Reduction Act of 2012 (SB 234/HB 439), which will create a pilot program for a series of geographically based Health Enterprise Zones (HEZs) in underserved communities.

Under the proposed legislation, community-based organizations or local health departments would submit proposals for HEZs to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Community Health Resources Commission outlining the targeted communities, as well as the tools they would use to expand and improve access to care, improve health outcomes, and reduce disparities.  The applying community organization would be eligible for grant funds to increase health services, and practitioners working with the community organization in an approved HEZ would be eligible for a menu of incentives such as loan assistance repayment, hiring and income tax credits, priority for the receipt of state funding available for electronic health records, and preference to enter the Maryland Patient Centered Medical Home Program. The Governor’s Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Proposal includes $4 million to fund the HEZ pilot program.

“It’s no coincidence that communities in Maryland without access to basic health care services have the highest rates of chronic and often preventable illness: hypertension, asthma, diabetes and other controllable medical conditions,” said Lt. Governor Brown.  “In underserved neighborhoods, routine symptoms that might be easily treated become serious, intractable health conditions.   By saturating underserved communities with primary care providers and health care services through innovative Health Enterprise Zones, we can help ensure healthier Marylanders who live a better quality of life.”

"Working with our community partners, we can improve health outcomes for our neighbors, friends and loved ones," said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, Secretary, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The health disparities legislation is based on recommendations developed by the Maryland Health Quality and Cost Council Health Disparities Workgroup, launched by Lt. Governor Brown last summer and chaired by University of Maryland School of Medicine Dean Dr. E. Albert Reece.

“Through a unique combination of incentives, education, outreach, and technology, Health Enterprise Zones will empower and engage individuals and communities where the greatest disparities exist,” said Dr. Reece.  “It is my firm belief that the strategies developed by the Workgroup can and will have an immediate and significant effect on health and health disparities, reduce healthcare costs, and improve quality of life for all citizens of our state.”

Despite  numerous positive measures, such as has having the second highest rate of primary care providers per capita and one of the ten lowest rates of smoking, Maryland ranks 35th in infectious diseases, 34th in health outcomes, and 33rd regarding geographic health disparities. A 2006 report found that blacks in Maryland are nearly twice as likely be hospitalized for such treatable conditions as asthma, hypertension and heart failure, costing Medicare an additional $26 million.  Nationally, a 2009 report estimated that between 2003 and 2006, nearly $230 billion could have been saved in direct medical care costs if racial and ethnic health disparities did not exist.

“The 2010 Baltimore City Health Department’s Disparities Report Card tells us that while health has improved for all demographic groups in the City over the last decade, significant disparities remain between different groups for 29 of 30 health areas assessed,” said Baltimore City Commissioner of Health Dr. Oxiris Barbot, who testified in favor of the administration’s bill.  “The enactment at the State level of Health Enterprise Zones would complement the ongoing work in Baltimore City to reduce health disparities and health inequities and greatly benefit public health here and across the state.”

Health disparities are also pervasive throughout rural Maryland.  Nearly all of the counties on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland are designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs), according to the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration.

“Health disparities, often associated with urban ethnic and racial populations, are also present in rural Maryland,” said Worcester County Health Officer Deborah Goeller, R.N., MSN. “Geographic distance, socio economic status, employment and educational status, and limited health care providers and resources contribute to disparities in rural areas.  The creation of Health Enterprise Zones is an innovative proposal to address health disparities and improve health outcomes in areas of high need and too few resources.”

Lt. Governor Brown leads the O’Malley-Brown Administration’s efforts to reduce costs, expand access, and improve the quality of health care for all Marylanders. Under the leadership of Governor O’Malley and Lt. Governor Brown, Maryland has implemented reforms that have expanded health coverage to over 310,000 Marylanders and put the State in position to maximize the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).


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