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Md. hospitals downsize job-creation proposal

Two of the state’s major health systems have scaled back a $40 million proposal to increase hospital rates so 1,000 entry-level workers could be hired from impoverished areas in Baltimore and across Maryland.

The initial plan met with criticism from staff of the state’s Health Services Cost Review Commission (HSCRC), which sets the rates for the state’s hospitals.

A November staff report argued that the program could overlap with existing efforts to reduce health disparities — which will create new jobs — and an expected reduction in hospital usage could end up eliminating some of the hospital-based jobs created by the program.

Now, the heads of of the Johns Hopkins Health System and the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) want the commission to approve $10 million per year for the program, which would support 250 new jobs, and make another $10 million available in grant funds to support 250 more.

“Without new and permanent funding there will be no opportunity to create new jobs targeted at disadvantaged communities,” Ronald R. Peterson, president of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, and Robert A. Chrencik, president and CEO of UMMS, wrote in Dec. 1 letters to the commission, which sets the rates for the state’s hospitals.

In order to obtain the grant money, hospitals would need to provide 20 percent in matching funds; the jobs program would be considered a pilot project to be reviewed in June 2017, Peterson and Chrencik wrote.

Under their revised plan, the commission would allocate $5 million to the program for the remainder of fiscal 2016, and $10 million each following year.

The commission is expected to vote on the plan at a meeting Wednesday.

Commission staff is expected to present a final report on the Health Job Opportunity Program at the meeting, recommending that the commission earmark $5 million dollars in the fiscal 2017 adjustment to hospital rates to support program development, training and coaching, according to the report, published on the commission’s website.

But hospitals should expect to fund positions from existing hospital rates, philanthropic donations and other savings generated by the state’s global-budget payment system, which is intended to reduce hospital admissions by increasing preventive care, according to the report.

Peterson, joined by representatives from UMMS and MedStar Health, suggested the jobs program in September, describing it as a way to help address the unemployment and income disparity in Baltimore that contributed to the April riots, although the program would not be limited to the city.

The plan drew criticism from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which argued there was already a mechanism in place that could fund the program without further increasing hospital rates, and from CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, which argued that hospitals should not be allowed to pass along the cost of the program to patients and insurers.