Maryland legislators look back at session accomplishments and acknowledge work still needs to be done


Hannah Saunders


Legislators on Maryland’s Health and Government Operations (HGO) committee experienced an historic session by passing all of the bills that were introduced through the committee. Delegates Jamila Woods and Deni Taveras (both Democrats representing Prince George’s) spoke with State of Reform about this session’s successes and ways they seek to continue to strengthen the state’s healthcare system. 


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While the two legislators are newcomers to the HGO committee, they are both driven by their experiences as former foster youth, and aim to create changes they wished to see as children. Woods was in foster care until she was 12 and was later adopted. She said much of her work this session resonated with her as a young adult.

“It’s bittersweet. It’s wonderful because I’m now in a position where I can help make a difference. It’s challenging because I realized more than ever before how difficult it is to get people to understand the need to focus on people’s safety and well-being, and how some people literally will put money over people’s health—how some people will put payments over patients, and it just breaks my heart because I realized there is so much work to be done.”

— Del. Jamila Woods

Woods has a high interest in mental health—a topic she has previously advocated for as a licensed social worker. This session, she continued to advocate for mental health to be treated the same as physical health, and to increase the number of mental health services. Woods co-sponsored House Bill 418, which establishes the Behavioral Health Workforce Investment Fund, and HB 121, which requires treatment plans for individuals with mental disorders who are admitted to specific healthcare facilities to include a discharge goal. Both bills were signed into law. 

Woods was also proud to have co-sponsored HB 376, which relates to health insurance for breast cancer care.

“The cost is ridiculous for people to have to come back, and we want to do something to make sure that while the mammogram is covered by health [insurance], when the results indicate any type of abnormality, that the diagnostic imaging and other expensive costs don’t prevent women from going back and getting the healthcare that they need. HB 376 ensures that insurers, nonprofit health service plans, and health maintenance organizations that provide coverage for diagnostic and supplement of breast examination can’t impose a copayment, coinsurance, or deductible for that follow-up examination.” 

— Woods

Another major success was the passage of HB 382, which requires the state’s Department of Health and the Prescription Drug Affordability Board to study the payment of prescription drug claims.

“This removed the sunset to allow the first-in the nation Prescription Drug Affordability Board to continue to work to help lower the cost of prescription drugs for Marylanders. A big concern of mine are these PBMs—these pharmacy benefit managers—and how people are unable to get prescriptions because the prescriptions that they were previously able to get are now being excluded. Their [patients] are being offered generic brands. Pharmacies are suffering. Pharmacists are going out of business because of these horrendous costs … [and] the impact that it’s having on their patients and customers.” 

— Woods

Taveras also found the passage of HB 382 to be a gamechanger, and said that work is being done to provide trends about pricing. She co-sponsored another major bill, HB 454, that seeks to address healthcare workforce shortages.

“Due to the large need for pharmacists, nurses, social workers, and mental health professionals across the state, we really worked to streamline processes that mandated the expedited licensing for these career tracks, including from immigrants that may not have all their other paperwork but should have the qualifications, social workers, and other mental health professionals.

[The legislature also worked on] workforce development, creating workforce development funds, and allowing dentists and dental hygienists to provide services to those eligible for Medicaid, and in turn, receive grants that can go to relieve their student debt. When I look at it from these perspectives, I feel like we’re leaving no one behind.” 

— Del. Deni Taveras

As a child, Taveras lost her parents to suicide and because of that, she never wants to see anyone have to go through what she experienced, whether a family by blood or creation. This is why she co-sponsored HB 283, also known as the Trans Health Equity Act. 

“Give individuals the right to be who they want to be, and to respect their rights and the right for them to live with the decisions of who they feel they are, and while that’s not a choice I would make for myself, to respect others’ opinions for what they want to do. I know that in this particular population, the percentage of suicidal ideation is extremely high, and I know that this is a community that, for all intents and purposes, senses to be under attack and has a higher degree of violence exposures, street living.”

— Taveras

The lawmakers said HB 588 not being passed was a shortcoming of this session. Taveras said the bill would have been critical by allowing undocumented individuals to buy-in to the Affordable Care Act system on their own, and would have cost the state nothing.

“It received pushback because we had so many new players at the table, and people just didn’t want to risk the political capital at this time,” she said. “That’s mainly my gut reaction on it at this point because it really wasn’t a cost issue in my eyes, it was an access issue.”

The bill would have required the state to apply for a federal 1332 waiver, which would have ensured undocumented state residents have access to health insurance via the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. 

“We couldn’t pass a bill for people who want to pay into the healthcare system—I’m talking about healthcare for all who want to pay into the healthcare system. They’re not asking for free healthcare, and this of course impacts so many of the immigrants, but these are people who are tax-paying people, working people who say, ‘I want to pay into a healthcare system,’ and we say, ‘No you can’t do that.’ That’s a problem. To me, healthcare is human care, and I think that everyone has a right to healthcare.” 

— Woods

Going forward, both Woods and Taveras wish to reintroduce legislation that would ensure healthcare for all, regardless of immigration status. 

“It broke my heart to hear people coming to my office, telling me that they can’t get healthcare for things, and there was actually a person from … Maryland who died during the session because they couldn’t get the [needed] healthcare services. I have major challenges with that—I need to see that healthcare is affordable. 

“I hate that we live in a country where people are suffering when we know that there are other countries where they might pay for healthcare [for everyone]. If we’re supposed to be so smart, and so progressive, and so forward-moving, why have we not found a way to make sure that we can ensure that our people receive healthcare services, and that people are not dying?”

— Woods

Woods believes all human beings should be treated equally and have equitable access to affordable healthcare, and believes that some individuals view others of a lower status.

“There are some things I hated that there even had to be legislation [about], because I think when we talk about our own personal health, that is something that should not be legislated,” she said. “I hate that people’s personal health, people’s choices, people’s lifestyles have to come across our system as it relates to being able to get medical services. I have a challenge with that.”