The idea of a single-payer health care system was lost in the debate over the much-amended national health care reform passed by Congress last year, but three Howard County delegates are co-sponsors of legislation in this year's General Assembly that seeks to bring the idea to fruition in the Free State.
The concept involves having everyone in the state get health care through one single insurance pool to which everyone pays premiums. It eliminates the variety of insurance companies that now offer coverage only to those insured through an employer or who can pay.
The Senate version (SB388) of the Maryland Health Security Act is scheduled for a hearing March 9 at 1 p.m. in the Senate Finance Committee in Annapolis, and backers are planning a free event to help boost support March 12 at 1 p.m. at the Central Library in Columbia.
Dels. Guy Guzzone, Frank Turner and Elizabeth Bobo, all Democrats, are all co-sponsors of the House bill (HB1035), and Democratic Del. Shane Pendergrass said she supports a single-payer system in concept, though she is not a co-sponsor because the bill would come before her subcommittee. Sponsors of the three-hour library event are Healthcare-Now! Maryland and Physicians for a National Health Program.
Organizers of the single-payer campaign, Stephen Dunbar and Dr. Eric G. Naumburg, say the bill has little chance of passage this year, but they believe that things may change in the future.
"The health system, the way it's going, cannot survive long-term," said Dunbar, 68, of Columbia. He's an entrepreneur with a 43-year old son who was recently laid off from his job. His son, he said, had three open-heart surgeries as a child and needs continuous medical care that he may not be able to afford without employer-provided health insurance.
If the federal plan survives a Republican onslaught, it still leaves millions without coverage, and will be expensive. If Republicans succeed, Dunbar and Naumburg feel, the whole system will collapse, making single-payer the logical alternative.
Naumburg, 63, also of Columbia, is a former pediatrician who said he's retired from active medical practice to devote his life to promoting a single-payer system.
To advocates, the advantages seem naturally appealing. Instead of having multiple insurance companies with a jungle of rules and paperwork, there would be one standard for everyone. That means no need for advertising, huge billing and administrative offices, far less confusion, and medical services dispensed as needed without a cost-driving fee-for-service system.
They are also aware that what they see as a logical solution to the still rising costs of health care is seen as "socialized medicine" to be opposed at all costs by others. "We know we need support from the grassroots," said Naumburg.
Bobo said she never gives up on what she feels is a good idea, no matter the obstacles. "I think we need to get out there and just keep promoting it."