Rallying for 'Walmart Bill'

Rallying for 'Walmart Bill'

Politicians, health care groups call for veto override.

It had only been two weeks since Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R) vetoed the Fair Share Health Care Fund Act, passed by both houses of the Maryland legislature in early April. And it will likely be seven months before the full legislature convenes again and votes on possible veto overrides.

But supporters of the Fair Share bill got an early start in calling for that very action June 2 at a rally at River Road Unitarian Church.

If it becomes law, the Fair Share bill will require Maryland companies with 10,000 or more employees to spend the equivalent of 8 percent of their payrolls on health care benefits or to pay the difference to the state’s Medicaid program.

The legislation was dubbed the “Wal-Mart bill” because the retail giant is the only known company that would be affected by the change, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2007.

The rally was organized by two advocacy groups, Montgomery Health Care Action and the Health Care for All Coalition. Speakers included U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-8th), Dels. Bill Bronrott (D-16) and Susan Lee (D-16), who represent parts of Potomac and County Councilmembers Steve Silverman (D) and George Leventhal (D) who represent Potomac as at-large members of the Council.

Other speakers included Del. Anne Healey (D-22), the chief sponsor of the House bill.

More than 700,000 Maryland residents do not have health insurance, according to Montgomery Health Care Action. Speakers focused on the fact that since those uninsured residents receive no preventative care, they receive their primary care in hospital emergency rooms — the most costly health care available. Illnesses that might have been curtailed by early treatment by a physician can worsen and require surgery and hospital stays, driving those costs up further.

Those costs fall squarely on Maryland taxpayers, the speakers said.

“It’s a huge drain on the system,” Bronrott said in an interview. “An ounce of prevention is worth a cure.”

Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-18) noted that while lacking health insurance is a problem for the overall population, it is one that disproportionately affects Latinos.

Bronrott said that he believes a veto override has a good chance of succeeding, but will be a litmus test.

“Whose base wins: The haves and the have mores? Or those who are truly in need?” he said.

Ehrlich has called the Fair Share bill bad policy, saying it will discourage businesses from settling in Maryland.

But Deborah Schumann of Montgomery Health Care Action said that that argument is simply a way of protecting corporate coffers.

“We see this as a moral issue,” she said. Employers are trying to get out of paying the cost.

Schumann said that Giant Food, one of four Maryland companies with 10,000 or more employees spends 20 percent of its payroll on healthcare.

Schumann was a practicing physician for 20 years.

When she started practicing in the late 1970s the only health care providers were Blue Cross, Medicare, and Medicaid, she said. She pointed to the proliferation of managed care companies as part of the fundamental problem of health care.

”Managed care, what it does is it just puts more layers of bureaucracy on top of the relationship between the patient and the doctor of the patient and the provider,” she said.

“The for-profit system that’s really kind of ruining things.”

Schuman acknowledged that even enactment of the Fair Share bill won’t put an end to those problems or to the lack of universal health care America.

But it’s both a needed effort and a meaningful one.

“I might not be an instrumentalist personally, but that’s where we’re at right now,” she said.