Senate committee supports $14M health equity initiative
The Senate Budget & Taxation Committee supported SB172, which would expand health care to underserved communities by establishing Health Equity Resource Communities (HERC). The committee supported providing $14 million to launch the initiative in the coming year.
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The bill would allow for those communities with poor health outcomes to become a HERC community and be able to compete for grants, tax incentives and health care provider loan repayment assistance to increase access to care. The bill is designed to close health inequities based on race, disability and geography.
The program would be funded by a 1-cent per dollar increase in state alcohol sales tax. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Antonio Hayes.
“We are grateful that Senate President Bill Ferguson and the Senate leaders are supporting legislation to expand health care to underserved communities by establishing Health Equity Resource Communities,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative. “This funding will provide the resources to get serious about closing gaps in care that have made it hard for many Marylanders, including many Black and Hispanic residents, to have good access to high-quality health care.”
The pandemic demonstrated the importance of access to health care, he said.
“The Affordable Care Act has been great for Maryland,” DeMarco said. “Our rate of insured has gone from 13% to 6%, but there are still tremendous disparities in the process.”
The U.S. Census Bureau recently released data that shows 13% of Hispanics and 5% of Black Marylanders don’t have health care insurance. Two percent of whites lack coverage.
“This initiative provides a greater amount of flexibility,” Hayes said. “A lot of people color have been reluctant to take advantage of government programs.”
Hayes cites the Tuskagee Airman experiment as one example for the mistrust and reluctance.
“People remember those things,” he said. “But this provides an opportunity for communities to identify health challenges in their own communities.”
Hayes says the bill would allow for grants to fund innovative ideas, such as certifying barbers and beauticians as community health workers to share important health care information with their clients.
“That’s a unique approach,” he said. “As state government, we try to find one-size-fits-all approaches and something like that might be left out.”