At the 2023 Maryland State of Reform Health Policy Conference last month, several panelists discussed health-related bills that were signed into law this year, and three delegates highlighted the successes of this year’s session as it pertains to healthcare. Legislators touted this year’s session as a major success when it comes to improving the healthcare system and acknowledged there is still work to be done.
“[In] the governor’s legislative package, all his bills passed. Granted, when I say that, I’m also a realist, so I’ve been part of the whole legislative process and what often happens with the bills that are introduced [is] that they go through the process and they get amended and they get changed … that happened with some of his bills, but I still think he needs to be credited, and our administration should be credited for the fact that we were able to push those bills through.”
— June Chung, deputy legislative officer for the Governor’s Legislative Office
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Chung said it was a “miracle” to have passed so many healthcare-related bills due to the fact that there are so many moments within a legislative session where a bill could die. Part of Chung’s work is tracking each bill, and she sees the passage of the legislative package as a success.
Leonard Lucchi, principal of O’Malley, Miles, Nylen & Gilmore, P.A., a firm of attorneys experienced in complex civil litigation and transactions, said every bill gets assigned to one committee. Maryland has a total of ten standing committees, with four in the Senate and six in the House.
“Healthcare is not really a partisan issue, so these issues often do go across the aisle in terms of people being involved and legislators being involved … and part of the process to get it passed,” he said.
Unlike other states, Lucchi explained that if a bill in Maryland is filed in a timely manner, it gets a hearing, adding that everyone who wishes to testify on a bill receives two minutes of public input, making it a transparent process.
At the conference, Del. Bonnie Cullison (D – Montgomery) said she thinks the current healthcare system model needs to be re-envisioned.
“One of the questions we’re really dealing with right now, and something that I want to make sure that we have community input into, is who makes the decisions about care?” she asked.
She spoke on the issue of practitioners and patients coming to a consensus about treatment plans, and how both groups receive pushback from health insurance about coverage for treatment plans. She admitted that this is a longstanding issue, and believes a primary part of the issue is ensuring that individuals understand how all parts of the healthcare system operate. Another focus of hers is to ensure that all Marylanders have health insurance coverage.
“One of my priorities is to make sure that we can get everyone in Maryland covered with insurance. I am hopeful that we can figure out a way to educate the public and all of the entities within the healthcare system.”
Cullison said that there are about 350,000 Marylanders who are uninsured, while 175,000 of those who are uninsured are undocumented immigrants. She wants to ensure that constituents remain healthy and have access to preventative care.
Del. Robbyn Lewis (D – Baltimore) was also a panelist at the conference, holds a master’s degree in public health, and has worked across the globe to reduce the harms of infectious diseases.
“My purpose on this earth is to break barriers that prevent people from getting what they need,” she said.
Two of the biggest barriers relating to social determinants of health that Lewis hopes to overcome are transportation and workforce shortages. In her opinion, one of the most meaningful steps that was taken in the legislature this past year was the passage of Del. Kenneth Kerr’s (D – Frederick) bill, House Bill 596.
“It requires the state to put more money into mobility services for health-related transportation in rural and underserved areas—but mostly rural—and I thought that was powerful and important because it is a connection in policy and law, and it puts money into it.”
Del. Nicholaus Kipke (R – Anne Arundel) was pleased how members of the House Health and Government Operations Committee worked together to make improvements to the lives of Marylanders. He provided personal experience of chauffeuring his grandparents, while they were in assisted living, to doctors appointments. He recalled taking his grandfather to the dentist and thought about those who couldn’t make it to the appointments—what that would mean for their overall health.
“Being elected, you can make a difference for people in the way of healthcare,” Kipke said. “It’s been a thrill, truly, to be in the position—to be able to help people with issues big and small.”
Going forward in terms of healthcare for 2024, Lewis placed importance on universal healthcare, calling the expansion of access to insurance coverage urgent.
“That is essentially, and frankly for those of you who sit in one camp or other, about how we achieve universal coverage, but I think we should use the term universal coverage and repeat it like a mantra—remembering that it’s our goal, and that however we get there, that’s why we’re working so hard.”
Lewis cited the Express Lane Eligibility Program bill, known as Senate Bill 26. The bill requires the state’s Department of Health to establish an Express Lane Eligibility Program by Jan. 1st, 2025, to enroll individuals into the state’s Medical Assistance Program and the Maryland Children’s Health Program based on specific eligibility. Lewis encouraged the state to pursue additional ways to close the coverage gap for undocumented Maryland residents.
“It’s not that hard. Several other states have done it,” Lewis said.