Maryland Activists Mobilize on Medicaid

By Josh Kurtz

On Monday evening, Reps. John Sarbanes (D) and Elijah Cummings (D) will appear along with an array of health care advocates at a town hall meeting in Baltimore on the future of Medicaid.

The fate of the Medicaid program is up in the air, thanks to uncertainty surrounding the health care reform legislation that passed in the House recently – and the state’s response to any changes in federal law remains an open question. Consequently, organizers of Monday’s event are billing it as an opportunity for Marylanders to share how Medicaid has impacted them and their families and to connect with government officials.

The public forum is sponsored by the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative; the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches; the Baltimore City Health Department; HealthCare Access Maryland, a nonprofit dedicated to connecting residents with health insurance; and 1199 SEIU United Health Care Workers East.

The public forum on Monday begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Greater Baltimore Urban League, 512 Orchard St. in Baltimore. In addition to Cummings and Sarbanes, speakers will include Leana Wen, the Baltimore city health commissioner, Wandra Ashley-Williams, vice president of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, and Traci Kodeck, the CEO of HealthCare Access Maryland.

While this public conversation on Medicaid is taking place, about 20 Maryland health care and consumer stakeholder groups have already begun working behind the scenes to respond to any changes the federal government makes to the program – and pressure the state to keep the health care system as affordable and equitable as possible.

The push is being loosely led by Consumer Health First, a coalition of about 100 stakeholder groups whose goal is to make health care more accessible and affordable across the state. During the recently completed General Assembly session, Consumer Health First worked to add a provision to the state budget requiring state officials to partner with consumer advocates, health care professionals and other experts to devise a strategy to any federal policy or budget changes that affect Medicaid in Maryland.

“The goal is making sure the consumer voice is a part of every single policy and whatever table of stakeholders that there is,” said Leni Preston, the president of Consumer Health First, who calls the national Republican health care plan “the Make America Sick Again bill.”

The latest mobilization, advocates say, is similar to what occurred after the federal government passed the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare. The groups essentially divvied up their areas of expertise and came up the recommendations for how the state should implement the new law.

This time around, the coalition includes groups that work on disabled issues, with seniors, children and the homeless, and that work on mental health issues and dental care. Various nonprofits and policy organizations are involved.

“It’s a pretty broad range,” Preston said.

One of the coalition’s immediate concerns is the preservation of the CHIP program, which provides health insurance coverage to 539,000 Maryland kids. That program is due to be reauthorized in the fall.

Preston said the stakeholder groups have also decided they will oppose any attempts to create a block grant program for funding medical care, and will also oppose per capita caps.

“As advocates,” said Jeananne Sciabarra, executive director of Consumer Health First, “we really need to be prepared.”

 

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