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Montgomery, Baltimore Leaders Back Big Employer Health Care Plan

By Ryan Basen
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2005

ANNAPOLIS - Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley Wednesday backed a bill to require large companies in Maryland to spend a significant amount of their payroll costs on employee health coverage.

Health care advocates reveled in the news during a Health Care For All! event outside the State House. The coalition supports universal health care in Maryland.

Sen. Gloria Lawlah, D-Prince George's, and Delegate Anne Healey, D-Prince George's, announced their intention to include the Fair Share Health Care plan in a bill they plan to introduce in the General Assembly.

The proposal would mandate employers in Maryland with at least 10,000 full- and part-time employees to spend at least 8 percent of payroll costs on employee health care coverage.

Health Care advocates have championed the plan as a method for reducing the ranks of the 740,000 uninsured Marylanders and forcing larger employers to more evenly share the costs of health insurance in the state.

O'Malley and Duncan joined the legislators to address the crowd of health care supporters in Lawyers Mall.

Duncan said companies that don't provide adequate employee health coverage "drive up costs for the rest of us" and called the Fair Share plan a step toward curbing this problem and providing for affordable universal health insurance in Maryland.

"It's a common-sense solution to a critical problem," he said. "This is a statement bill...It's time for everyone to pay their fair share for health care in Maryland."

O'Malley said some action is needed to let businesses know they cannot continue to shirk health insurance costs and to set a foundation for a state where businesses of all sizes provide adequate health coverage.

Giant Food Inc. and Wal-Mart are the only for-profit companies in Maryland that the bill would affect.

Because of this, when Barbara Hoffman, a former state senator, presented the Fair Share plan during a Senate Finance Committee meeting Tuesday, she was criticized for advocating a "target bill."

Hoffman, Duncan and O'Malley disagreed.

"If companies choose not to provide health care benefits," O'Malley said, "they are in essence targeting themselves."

Northrup Grumman Corp., Johns Hopkins Hospital and Helix Health Systems Inc. -- which all finished 2003 with more than 8,000 employees in the state -- could fall under the jurisdiction of this bill in the future.

Giant supports the plan and O'Malley said he hoped Wal-Mart would as well.

Dan Fogleman, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, said the company could not comment on the plan until it sees the bill. Fogleman said Wal-Mart offers health coverage to all of its full- and part-time employees and spent $4.1 billion on employee benefits in 2004 nationally.

Fogleman did not know what percentage of Wal-Mart's payroll costs in Maryland funded health coverage.


Copyright 2005 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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