Health Advocacy Group Marks 20 Years, Looks Ahead

An aerial view of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative's 20th anniversary party in Baltimore Wednesday night. Twitter photo

A health care advocacy organization that has pushed Maryland’s political leaders to expand insurance coverage and create a mechanism for reducing prescription drug prices celebrated its 20th anniversary with a party in Baltimore on Wednesday night.

The Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative used the event, at Westminster Hall, to remind supporters and donors of their successes but also to focus on what the organization’s founder promises will be an ambitious agenda for the next couple of years.

“One of the reasons we’ve been successful is that we make these public health issues election issues,” said Vincent DeMarco, the organization’s president. “The people of Maryland really want quality, affordable health care for all Marylanders.” 

Since its founding in 1999, the MCHI has:

— advocated for the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, to reduce the number of uninsured; 

— pushed for an increase in the tax on cigarettes, to discourage teen smoking and raise money to make insurance more affordable;

— lobbied to prevent companies like Walmart from “dumping their employee health care costs on the taxpayers”;

— urged the creation of a prescription drug affordability board to clamp down on pharmaceutical firms that jack up the price of prescription medications; and 

— fought for changes to state tax forms intended to engage with taxpayers who are eligible for free or low-cost health coverage

“After 20 years we’re stepping back for a second to say ‘thank you’ to all of our supporters and the policy-makers for making all this progress possible. … But I want to emphasize we don’t intend to rest on our laurels. There’s more to do.”

Last week the state’s Health Insurance Coverage Protection Commission heard from advocates from Massachusetts, a state that has the lowest level of uninsured persons — just 3 percent — in the nation.

Part of the state’s success, much of it flowing from policies advocated by former Gov. Mitt Romney (R), stems from the willingness of Massachusetts leaders to supplement federal health insurance tax credits with state credits. 

The commission, on which DeMarco serves, may push Maryland leaders to move in a similar direction.

DeMarco said the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative frequently gets calls from lawmakers and advocates in other states, seeking advice. Next month he plans to travel to Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey and Vermont to share some of the strategies he’s developed since 1999. 

Many of the organization’s initiatives draw opposition from deep-pocketed industries such as pharmaceutical and tobacco companies. The group’s 2017 push to force a reduction in the price of generic drugs sparked litigation in which the opposition, a coalition of pharmaceutical firms, eventually prevailed.

A 501(c)(3), the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative is funded by foundations, individuals, unions and others.

Speakers at the organization’s gala included state House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D).

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.

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