ANNAPOLIS - Fearing massive cuts to health care services when Gov.
Robert Ehrlich announced the state budget, Glenn Schneider stood in
Lawyers Mall Wednesday morning and wondered aloud to a small crowd of
"Will the governor use his budget as a weapon of mass destruction?"
But as it turned out, the worst fears of Schneider, executive director of the
coalition Health Care For All!, were unjustified.
When Ehrlich announced his $25.9 billion 2006 budget Wednesday afternoon, he
included a 9 percent increase in Medicaid funding and a 6.6 percent hike in
community services for the developmentally disabled. Overall, the budget
includes $7.4 billion for health care, 27 percent of the total $25.9 billion
Earlier in the day, Schneider led a 20-minute vigil, where he noted that
cutting Medicaid funding could destroy Maryland's health care system and called
on Ehrlich to expand the state's health care services instead of cutting them.
With a $371 million increase in spending for Medicaid (to $4.3 billion),
Ehrlich promised to provide service to about 644,000 Marylanders. Other budget
increases in health care include an additional $5.2 million for juvenile
services and $9.4 million more for the Women, Infant and Children program.
"I'm very happy with what I see," said Delegate Charles Boutin, R-Harford, a
member of the House Health & Government Operations committee. "I think people
are going to be surprised . . . It's a healthy increase" in spending on health
Ehrlich had implied in the fall that he would ask for cuts in health care
spending with the 2006 budget. After the governor introduced the budget, Boutin
and fellow House health committee member Charles Weldon, R-Frederick, were
initially pleased at its commitment to health care services, especially
"That astounded me," Boutin said.
"My expectation was that there would be a slight increase," Weldon said, "but
nothing like what we saw today . . . We're talking about a substantial
commitment to people who need care."
Schneider, however, was not yet satisfied with the budget changes. He was
encouraged to hear of the increases, but withheld further comment on the budget
until Health Care For All! and the Baltimore-based advocacy group to which it
belongs, Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, has thoroughly examined it.
Schneider questioned whether the budget's dramatic increases masked any
health care cuts. Health Care For All! ultimately wants all residents of the
state to have "access to quality, affordable health care."
"I will be first person in line to say, 'Thank you, Governor,' if he put
money in the budget," Schneider said. "Because that's the first step."
Copyright © 2005 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism
Top of Page |