Health Disparities Legislation Backed by Lt. Governor Brown Passes General Assembly
Bill to Create Pilot Program of Innovative Health Enterprise Zones Sent to Governor for His Signature
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (April 9, 2012) – Over the weekend, the Maryland General Assembly passed the O’Malley-Brown Administration’s Health Improvement and Disparities Reduction Act of 2012 (SB 234), legislation led by Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown which will create a pilot program for a series of innovative Health Enterprise Zones (HEZs) in underserved communities designed to reduce disparities in health care and health outcomes among racial and ethnic groups and between geographic areas.
“Every Marylander, of every race, ethnicity, and nationality, in every part of our state, should have the chance to live a healthy, productive life,” said Lt. Governor Brown. “With our Health Enterprise Zone program, we will be able to saturate underserved communities with primary care and other health services to help reduce rates of chronic and often preventable illnesses, such as hypertension, asthma, diabetes and other controllable medical conditions. I thank the General Assembly for taking action to improve the quality of life for more Marylanders by making this innovative program a reality.”
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.
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 improve public health, and providers 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, grants for capital and infrastructure improvements, priority for the receipt of state funding available for electronic health records, and preference to enter the Maryland Patient Centered Medical Home Program.
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.
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).