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First Click, Maryland -- Health care takes center stage in policy debates

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Thursday, June 10, 2010:

The Agenda
Aaron.jpgHealth care providers, academics, insurers, employers, labor unions and consumer protection groups are scheduled to testify in Annapolis this morning in what's expected to be the most wide-ranging presentation yet of concerns and questions over how Maryland will implement federal health-care reform.

Contending with changes to Marylanders' health insurance as well as the overhaul's impact on the state budget are just a couple of the fronts in which policy-making continues to chug along in Annapolis this summer, despite every elected official from Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on down being on November's ballot.

Late last month, Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) convened the first meeting designed to produce a year-end report that could determine whether state lawmakers move forward with allowing direct wine shipments to residents in the state (advocates criticized the make up of Franchot's first working group, saying it was dominated by wine industry officials). A committee of lawmakers that focuses on IT issues has also begun discussing ways to revive proposals to begin online video streaming of committee hearings and other meetings. The idea appeared to die this spring when the General Assembly's rules committees failed to vote on a series of bills to promote open-government. And soon, another committee is expected to begin formulating recommendations on how and when the state might begin shifting a portion of teacher retirement costs to counties. After the Senate this spring approved a plan to do so, House lawmakers scuttled the idea during final budget negotiations in favor of a study. The issue is bound to be part of budget negotiations when the legislature reconvenes in January.

The group coordinating implementation of federal health-care reform will move quickest of all. The so-called Health Care Reform Coordinating Council, which O'Malley established in March with an executive order, is scheduled to produce a report by mid July on the federal law's effect on the state. The report will also establish a timeline for implementation, and model expected costs and savings to the state.

healthcarecouncikl.jpgLt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) and Maryland Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John M. Colmers co-chair the committee. At the group's first meeting last month, state health officials testified that in September insurance providers will no longer be able to drop coverage when participants fall ill. Plans also will not be able to place arbitrary lifetime limits on benefits nor deny coverage to sick children. O'Malley has said he believes the overhaul will reduce Maryland's health-care costs by $1 billion over the next decade, but members of the committee said the state still needs many details from the federal government to complete such budget estimates.

While the policy debate and implementation plans churn along, health care has yet to become a flash point in Maryland's gubernatorial race, and there are indications it may never rise to Topic No. 1 in the election.

A Washington Post poll conducted last month found that unlike nationally, a majority, or 55 percent, of Marylanders support the health-care overhaul, while 37 percent oppose it. Nationally 50 percent oppose, and 46 percent support.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (R), who is running to unseat O'Malley, has said he thinks the overhaul will cost the state more than the governor predicts. While we'll have to wait to see the committee's verdict, but it's unlikely to differ from O'Malley's prediction that the reform will save Maryland money. As the official notes from the committee's first meeting read:

"New funding will help states bring down costs by holding insurers accountable for unreasonable premium increases and requiring greater spending on actual health care rather than administrative functions."

-- Aaron C. Davis

News You Should Know

TV ad war begins in 1st congressional GOP race
"Looking to establish a beachhead against his better-known opponent, Rob Fisher is on the air with the first television ad of his Republican primary campaign in the 1st congressional district," writes The Post's Ben Pershing. "Fisher, the founder of a cybersecurity firm that does work for the federal government, is battling state Sen. Andy Harris for the GOP nomination to take on freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil (D). Harris lost to Kratovil in 2008 by fewer than 3,000 votes, and national Republicans see the seat -- which includes Maryland's Eastern Shore as well as some suburbs north and south of Baltimore -- as a prime pickup opportunity."

Maryland purchases first slots, despite protest
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp (D) on Wednesday approved contracts valued at almost $50 million over the objections of Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) to purchase and lease more than 1,000 video slot machines," writes The Post's Aaron Davis. "The 2-1 vote marked Maryland's first foray into purchasing and leasing slot machines to fulfill a 2008 voter-approved ballot measure authorizing Maryland to place up to 15,000 slots at five sites across the state. A series of problems have led to delays at all five proposed locations, but Hollywood Casino Perryville is now in position to become the state's first operating casino by late October."

Md-OpeningDay-Ehrlich2.JPGEhrlich says he'd review rules, mandates frustrating small businesses
Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) pledged Monday that small businesses would once again come to see state regulators as "their partners, not their sheriffs" if he returns to office next year," writes The Post's John Wagner. "Ehrlich promised the "fundamental shift in attitude" as he stood in a Gaithersburg pizzeria that served as a backdrop for his first policy proposals since launching his bid to win his job back from Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) two months ago. As part of an "Entrepreneur Agenda," Ehrlich said that he would set up task forces to review business regulations and health-care mandates and that he would make several changes to the unemployment insurance system, including a possible repeal of benefits for part-time employees, championed by O'Malley."

Commentary: Election will bring historic number of new governors
Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, writes for the Rasmussen Report that "With 37 of the 50 states electing governors, and 23 of those states having no incumbent running with additional incumbents in serious electoral trouble, the nation will see an epic turnover--the greatest in at least the last half-century ... It is also gradually becoming clear that Republicans will be adding substantially to their current total of governorships.


Quotable

"We would meet this sort of wall in Annapolis ... I want to start taking that wall down brick by brick."
-- Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (R) on the campaign trail, likening the state's Democratic majority in the General Assembly to a brick wall.

abramoff.jpg"It's usually a package deal, just for judicial economy purposes."
-- Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Edmond Ross explaining why disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff was released Tuesday from a western Maryland prison to a halfway house. Abramoff was sentenced in 2006 to nearly six years for a fraudulent Florida casino deal. He got a four-year sentence in 2008 for conspiring to defraud the U.S., corrupting public officials and defrauding his clients in a separate case. Because the judge ordered the sentences to run concurrently, the shorter sentence was subsumed by the longer one.

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Trust First Click for critical news and analysis you need to navigate Maryland politics. Each Monday and Thursday, First Click brings you The Agenda, a concise, forward-looking analysis of a top development in politics or policy. "News You Should Know" breaks down top stories from across the state. And other features keep you up to speed with power brokers in Annapolis and beyond. Want First Click on the go? Sign up for our free e-mail edition, and get the news delivered to your inbox or mobile device.

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By Aaron C. Davis  |  June 10, 2010; 7:39 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click  
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