In this edition of “5 Things We’re Watching,” we feature the latest data on the total cost of care growth in Maryland, a story on health and the gubernatorial election, and a Q&A with Jonathan Dayton, Executive Director of the Maryland Rural Health Association.
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State of Reform
1. Health and the gubernatorial election
Wes Moore and Del. Dan Cox, who will face off in November’s gubernatorial election, have vastly different views on health care issues. In this piece, State of Reform Reporter Nicole Pasia highlights the two candidates’ comments on top-of-mind health issues including abortion and the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the topic of reproductive care, Moore has said he will seek to secure the right to legal abortions through a constitutional amendment and will oppose efforts to restrict access to care in Maryland. Cox’s campaign position includes “defending the right to life,” and he previously spoke out against the Abortion Care Access Act, which passed during the 2022 legislative session.
2. Maryland’s total cost of care growth outpaces national average by over 3%
Katie Wunderlich, Executive Director of the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission, warned commissioners during a meeting this month that the state’s yearly total cost of care growth as of April 2022 was 3.68%—more than 3% higher than the national average of 0.29%. “If this were to hold, and we were to end the year at 3.38% total cost of care growth above the national growth, that would also wipe out the majority of our annual total cost of care savings that have been approved to date,” Wunderlich said during the meeting. “So we obviously are taking this very seriously.”
Wunderlich, however, advised caution in interpreting the data, noting that only first quarter data has been collected for this year and measurements may change in the coming months. Another possible explanation for this year’s cost growth discrepancy, Wunderlich explained, is that the national data may be incorrect or inconsistent. Wunderlich said the commission is working with federal partners to further validate the national cost growth figure.
3. What They’re Watching: Jonathan Dayton, Maryland Rural Health Association
Jonathan Dayton is the Executive Director of the Maryland Rural Health Association. In this “What They’re Watching” video, Dayton highlights MRHA’s priorities for ensuring rural Marylanders have access to health services.
Dayton says the growth of telehealth has helped break down access barriers for rural Marylanders. In an effort to expand telehealth utilization, he says MRHA will advocate for increased broadband access in the next legislative session. “With [lack of] transportation, getting to a medical facility is very hard. So we’re looking at ways to increase broadband access and increase telehealth for rural Marylanders.”
4. Call centers begin first week of 988
Crisis call centers in Baltimore City and surrounding counties have spent the last 2 years preparing for the rollout of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, a 3-digit dial code that links callers to confidential crisis support and behavioral health services. In this Q&A, Adrienne Breidenstine, Vice President of Policy and Communications at Behavioral Health System Baltimore, discusses the hotline’s launch and how BHSB plans to expand its services to reach the unique needs of Baltimore City and surrounding county residents.
Breidenstine says they’ve seen a minor uptick in calls during the first week of the 988 rollout, but she expects call volumes to continue to increase over time. Breidenstine also offered insight on the Greater Baltimore Regional Integrated Crisis System Partnership’s effort to regionalize 988 services across 4 different jurisdictions, aiming to better serve a mix of urban, suburban, and rural areas. “We are building out 988 helpline services to be able to respond to all people with all types of concerns that they might be calling for.”
5. Legislature invests $3.5 million in dementia funding
For the first time, the Maryland General Assembly has invested funds that will specifically address research and services for dementia and Alzheimer’s, a disease that affected approximately 110,000 Marylanders over age 65 in 2020. Eric Colchamiro, Public Policy Director at the Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Maryland Chapter, said his organization plans to work with the Department of Health to designate the $3.5 million appropriation.
Colchamiro outlined other recent legislative wins, including the creation of a Director of Dementia Services Coordination at the Maryland Department of Health, and the establishment of a licensure and regulatory system for nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The long-term goal, he says, is to strengthen the Alzheimer’s system of care to be on par with other chronic diseases, such as diabetes.