We are so thrilled to be back reporting in Maryland after a brief hiatus! In our first 2023 edition of “What They’re Watching” in Maryland, we include some of Reporter James Sklar’s reporting on the Maryland Legislature, which began meeting on Jan. 11th. We will continue to monitor key health-related legislation as it moves during the legislative session.
This newsletter also features Sen. Augustine’s input about Maryland’s new Medicaid dental benefit, a conversation with the Maryland Hospital Association’s Nicole Stallings about hospitals’ biggest needs for 2023, and information about some local projects receiving funding from the recently signed federal omnibus spending bill.
Thanks for reading, and please don’t hesitate to reach out with story leads, or just to connect—we’re always happy to hear from you!
State of Reform
1. First health bills taken up in Maryland Legislature
The 2023 legislative session began on Jan. 11th and health committees have been holding their first hearings of the session. This year’s health-related legislation includes an effort to extend Maryland’s Collaborative Care Pilot Program, which was created in 2018 to better-coordinate care for individuals in need of behavioral health treatment. Preliminary data from MDH shows that the program—currently slated to end in June 2024—has yielded positive results.
Another initiative we’re watching aims to increase access to health insurance for employees of small businesses by creating a 60-day special enrollment period for new hires at smaller companies that don’t provide health benefits. Sen. Katie Hester and Del. Robbyn Lewis are continuing their work to support the health needs of small business employees with the introduction of SB 59 and HB 107, respectively. The bills allocate funding for an information campaign about the program to be promoted through Maryland’s health insurance marketplace.
2. New Medicaid dental services benefit takes effect
Following last year’s passage of SB 150, Maryland Medicaid began covering dental services on Jan. 1st of. Bill sponsor Sen. Malcolm Augustine recently spoke with State of Reform about how this expansion of services will benefit Marylanders who have told him about their challenges in receiving needed dental care.
He noted that Maryland was a sort of outlier state in the path to Medicaid coverage (42 other states have already implemented some form of dental coverage) with pushback on SB 150 having mainly come from those concerned about its financial impact. He nonetheless affirmed his belief that the benefits outweigh the cost: “When I looked at the data, [it] showed us that this would save us money in the long run,” he said. “For example, with improved dental care you are able to identify other problem areas for folks because you save money by getting care for them earlier.”
3. What They’re Watching: Alan Weil, Health Affairs
In this edition of “What They’re Watching,” the editor-in-chief of Health Affairs, Alan Weil, discusses the work to demonstrate the link between healthcare outcomes and race. Interviewed at last year’s Maryland State of Reform conference, Weil talked about how finding evidence that race impacts health outcomes has proven more challenging than finding data to inform other areas of healthcare policy.
“Like anything else in health or medicine, if you don’t know the origins or the causes, it’s very hard to come up with a solution. So we’re learning about the ties and relationship between racism and health,” he said. He added that racism intersects with various other social determinants of health, including gender identity, disability, and sexual orientation, and thus these all need to be collectively considered when addressing health disparities.
4. Q&A: MHA’s Nicole Stallings discusses hospital needs in 2023
Despite benefiting from the state’s unique hospital financing model and increasing wages by 25% since the start of the pandemic, Maryland Hospital Association EVP and Chief External Affairs Officer Nicole Stallings says hospitals remain in an “unsustainable” state heading into 2023. With record-high inflation and labor costs, Stallings recently spoke with State of Reform about hospitals’ outstanding needs as MHA turns its attention to Maryland’s legislative session.
Looking back on 2022, Stallings said some of MHA’s legislative successes are the establishment of a commission to study the workforce crisis, the creation of a public awareness campaign to prevent workplace violence, and the continuation of the ability to fast-track physician licensing in certain states. For this year’s session, she says MHA “will advocate for legislation to strengthen our hospital workforce and improve access to care. That includes legislation to invest in the health workforce and faculty pipeline, maintain telehealth flexibilities, reform the Maryland Board of Nursing, and improve the behavioral health system of care.”
5. Federal omnibus bill funds health facility modernization in Western Maryland
In addition to guaranteeing a year of continuous for Medicaid-enrolled children and providing clarity about Medicaid redeterminations, the federal omnibus spending bill that President Biden signed into law last month allocates $2,218,969 for healthcare-related projects in Western Maryland. This includes funding to provide much-needed modernization to healthcare equipment for several facilties in the region.
Garrett Regional Medical Center will receive $650,000 in federal funds to implement a modernized electronic health record, Epic EHR, which will help the facility connect with the clinically affiliated WVU Medicine Health System more easily. The Frederick County Crisis Stabilization Center—slated to open this summer—will receive $699,000 from the federal package for acquiring equipment. The Frederick County Emergency Operations Center will receive $869,968 in federal funds to outfit a new, easier-to-access Emergency Operations Center.