5 Things Maryland: Abortion constitutional amendment, Prescription Drug Affordability Board, Gov. Moore’s health priorities
In this edition, we look at some health-related bills we’re watching in the legislature. With the deadline to pass bills out of their committees of origin only a couple weeks away, lawmakers are working to advance legislation concerning reproductive rights, drug affordability, and more.
We also include some information from a recent committee hearing about the impact of violence on state healthcare costs, and key items from Gov. Wes Moore’s FY 2024 budget proposal and his recent State of the State address.
If you have story tips, suggested topics for coverage, or would like to connect about anything else, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
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State of Reform
1. Legislature considers constitutional amendment to protect abortion
Aligning with a trend in some left-leaning states, Maryland is looking to codify the right to an abortion in its constitution. HB 705 and SB 798 are parallel versions of the Right to Reproductive Freedom Act, both of which await committee hearings in the legislature. The initiative requires a two-thirds majority approval in both chambers to pass—which, if lawmakers vote along party lines, is likely to happen.
The act is one of four bills in a reproductive rights package being promoted by state Democratic leaders. The Reproductive Health Protection Act (HB 808 and SB 859) would protect citizens and providers from anti-abortion prosecution, within and outside of the state. HB 477 and SB 341 would require Maryland’s higher education institutions to provide students with a reproductive health services plan. HB 812 and SB 786 would prevent Marylanders’ reproductive healthcare data from being used for prosecutory purposes.
2. Lawmakers hope to reestablish Prescription Drug Affordability Board
An effort to reestablish Maryland’s Prescription Drug Affordability Board is advancing through the legislature. After Maryland became the first state to establish a PDAB in 2019, the board sunsetted in December. HB 279 hopes to continue the work of the state’s PDAB, which published a report on drug price trends in the state at the end of last year, but didn’t exist long enough to actually establish upper payment limits on prescription drugs, which is the overall intent of the board.
“This bill will increase competition,” Del. Harry Bhandari said in support of the bill, responding to concerns that it could lead manufacturers to leave Maryland and sell in other states. “An upper payment limit can anchor prices, which can lead to lower drug prices for consumers … [It] also increases transparency. . . and helps us, policy makers, make informed decisions to address the rising cost of prescription drugs.” The bill passed the House last month through a 97-38 vote, and awaits further action in the Senate.
3. Other health bills we’re watching
A bill to establish a Commission on Public Health in Maryland has passed the House and is awaiting further action in the Senate. The commission would assess state and local health departments’ ability to respond to things like COVID-19, opioid overdoses, and racial disparities in maternal mortality outcomes. “Sometimes [during the pandemic] we saw a system that struggled to serve the people in a moment of crisis, and we know we can be doing better,” bill sponsor Del. Ariana B. Kelly said during a hearing.
Lawmakers are also considering legislation to strengthen dental care in the state, which would require parents to provide schools proof that their child received a dental screening. A recommendation from Maryland’s Oral Health Task Force, the bill would also require the State Board of Dental Examiners to make available a list of licensed providers who provide mobile dental services and distribute materials to communicate the availability of such services.
4. Stakeholders discuss impact of violence on healthcare costs
During a recent Public Health and Minority Health Disparities Subcommittee hearing, stakeholders spoke to lawmakers about the financial impact of high levels of violence on Maryland’s healthcare system. Martha Nathanson, vice president of government and community relations at LifeBridge Health, discussed how both direct costs (treating gunshot wounds, transportation, etc.) and indirect costs (long-term treatment, mental health impacts, etc.) of violence are major drivers of healthcare costs.
Tarria Stanley, co-chair of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence Coalition, testified that since 2019, homicides have increased by 35%, homicides committed by Black individuals have increased by 35%, and homicides committed by teens have increased by 172%.The annual cost of homicides in the state, she said, is around $5.7 billion per year. Kyle Fischer from the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention testified that current hospital-based violence prevention programs that neglect to provide continued treatment to those impacted by violence are insufficient.
5. Healthcare takeaways from Gov. Moore’s State of the State address and FY 2024 budget
Gov. Wes Moore delivered his first State of the State address last month, focusing on growing the state’s healthcare workforce. He called for increased accessibility to higher education pathways and real-world work experience, and said his budget proposal makes critical investments in the area. This includes proposals of $616 million for provider rate increases and $5 million to develop career pathways for community college students.
“It’s why I am proud that my budget makes [the] state government a more attractive place to work, with competitive wage increases to fill positions like registered nurses, attorneys, and emergency response technicians,” Moore said. In his budget proposal, Moore also calls for $14.7 billion for Maryland’s Medicaid program, $1.8 billion to provide community services for the developmentally disabled, and $485 million to provide behavioral health services to uninsured Marylanders.