By Emily Tiry, Staff Editor
Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony G. Brown recently announced a plan to address the state’s persistent health disparities and to improve outcomes and quality of care. The plan, which comes from recommendations from the Maryland Health Quality and Cost Council Health Disparities Workgroup, revolves around health enterprise zones (HEZ). These zones would be created in areas that are underserved and have documented health disparities. Several types of incentives would encourage primary care physicians to practice in HEZs, including loan repayment assistance, tax credits, and help in installing electronic medical record technology.
Additionally, the plan would create the Maryland Health Innovation Prize to reward new programs or interventions that successfully reduce health disparities. The plan would also require the two commissions that measure health care performance data in Maryland to track performance by race and ethnicity.
Stuart Butler, the director of the Center for Policy Innovation at the Heritage Foundation and the creator of the urban enterprise zones on which HEZs are modeled, noted some issues that need to be addressed if HEZs are to be successful. For example, he suggests suspending the Certificate of Need requirement, adjusting land-use rules, and modifying state Medicaid rules to reward health providers for innovative services.
While this program might increase access to health services in underserved areas, it may not drastically reduce or eliminate health disparities without complementary measures also being pursued. This is not to say that improving access is not an important component of reducing health disparities, but doing so is also not the only component. The causes of health disparities are extremely complex and one program will not solve every problem—but it’s a start.