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Maryland’s state lawmakers teamed up with health care advocates and community leaders on Wednesday to urge the passage of legislation that is aimed at reducing disparities in care and would be funded by a 1% increase in the state’s alcohol tax.

“This initiative is putting us one step forward. If the coronavirus and the implications have taught us anything else-its that communities of color are really suffering as it relates to health disparities throughout their community. And I think this legislation is one step further in the right direction,” Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City) said at a virtual news conference that was held on the video meeting site Zoom. The conference was sponsored by the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.

Hayes, who is the lead sponsor of the legislation in the upper chamber, said it will be introduced during the 2021 legislative session. Hayes said the legislation would establish Health Equity Resource Communities (HERC). Hayes said those communities would be eligible for grants, tax incentives, and health provider loan repayment assistance.

Del. Erek Barron (D-Prince George’s), who sits on the Health and Government Operations Committee and is the lead sponsor of the legislation in the lower chamber, said there is a direct correlation between health care outcomes and life outcomes.

“Health care permeates through every issue area. And to the extent that you fix health care-you’re fixing criminal justice issues, education. It just broadly goes to every issue and problem area that we can think of. ”

Barron said the legislation is both “evidence-based” and “data-driven.” He said it would not just help marginalized communities-but would benefit all Marylanders.

Del. Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s) echoed similar sentiments, saying the legislation is crucial to addressing disparities in care.

“Too often barriers limit access to health care-including having to travel too far a distance for care, language barriers, and limited outreach within communities.”

Bishop James Carter, president, Ministers Conference of Baltimore and Vicinity, stressed the need for unity in the fight for quality health care.

“The scriptures teach us that a house divided against itself cannot stand, which means we can do more and go further in concert and working together than we can divided.”

Carter added: “If there ever was a time for us to remain focused and unified for quality health care, it’s now.”

Health Insurance Premiums Decreasing

Gov. Larry Hogan said on Tuesday that Maryland’s 2021 individual health insurance premiums will decrease by 11.9%-which will mark the third conservative year that rates have gone down.

“While Washington continues to bicker back and forth about health care, we have delivered three consecutive years of lower premiums in Maryland,” Hogan said in a statement. “Our innovative program to make health care more affordable continues to bring more stability and peace of mind to Marylanders, and serves as a model for the rest of the nation.”

There are 117,888 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Wednesday morning, according to the state’s Department of Health, and 3,712 people in Maryland have died from the virus. The state’s positivity rate is at 3.44%, which is better than that of most states in the country. Maryland has tested more than 1.3 million people for COVID-19.

This article originally appeared on MarylandReporter.com on September 16, 2020, and is republished with permission.


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