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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Jealous vows Maryland will lead US in move to universal health care

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous and Julie Verratti, a former candidate for lieutenant governor and owner of Denizens Brewing Company in Silver Spring, talk about how universal health care could affect small businesses in Maryland. (Bryan P. Sears)

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous and Julie Verratti, a former candidate for lieutenant governor and owner of Denizens Brewing Company in Silver Spring, talk about how universal health care could affect small businesses in Maryland. (Bryan P. Sears)

SILVER SPRING — Ben Jealous said Tuesday that Maryland will lead the way to reforming the country’s broken health care system if he is elected governor.

The Democratic nominee, speaking to reporters, said that where other states have failed or have yet to implement a universal health care system run by the government, Maryland will succeed, comparing the Mid-Atlantic state to a province in Canada. The move, according to Jealous, would be a boon to small businesses in the state.

“Look at Canada,” Jealous told reporters. “Canada started with one province taking the lead — Saskatchewan. If California or New York don’t get there first, we’ll take the lead in Maryland. We’re been on the cutting edge of the provision of affordable health care for more than a generation. It’s saved us more than a half-billion dollars so far, it’s projected to save us a billion in the next five years. Let’s double down on what’s worked for Maryland by going the full distance.”

The “full distance,” Jealous said, is moving the state to a universal Medicare system in Maryland and away from private insurers. The move would allow the state to control annual insurance premium increases and give the state leverage to bargain with pharmaceutical companies.

“The reality is that Larry Hogan has no plan to change the status quo, and the pharmaceutical companies are investing in him because they profit mightily from that status quo,” said Jealous, in comments made at a campaign stop at Denizens Brewing Company.

A Hogan campaign aide scoffed at Jealous’ assertions.

“Governor Hogan has received bipartisan praise for his work with Democrats in the legislature on a landmark agreement that will expand the Maryland Model that Jealous simultaneously praises and vows to scrap, which will provide actual relief for taxpayers, not another bill for thousands of dollars,” said Scott Sloofman, a Hogan campaign spokesman. “Jealous’ plan has failed in every state where it has been attempted because the massive tax hikes and extreme budget busting that would be required would wreck the economy.”

Julie Verratti, owner of Denizens Brewing Company and a former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, said she spends $200,000 annually on health care for her employees — money she said could be invested back into her business and add more jobs.

“If we had that opportunity to know that the state was going to be able to take care of our employees, of us as business owners and know that people are going to be able to have good health coverage and we have that extra cash lying around, I mean that’s an increase in people’s wages and an increase in other benefits. We can purchase more manufacturing equipment, make more products. It’s just the whole thing is cyclical.

“It is crazy to me that businesses are required, and I think it’s particularly difficult for small businesses, to take on these costs,” said Verratti. “For us to have to do that when we live in a society — it’s the richest country in the world — we should be taking care of people. Why should we put the onus on (the) private sector?”

In campaign ads sponsored by the Republican Governor’s Association, Jealous’ health care plan has been portrayed as a budget buster and as irresponsible.

Jealous pointed to Maryland’s unique all-payer Medicare model in which the state receives nearly $2 billion from the federal government. That program would likely be voided if the state moved to a single-payer model proposed by Jealous.

Additionally, an estimate released in July by the Department of Legislative Services placed the price tag on moving to a universal health care model in the state at $24 billion. It would include a payroll tax on every employer in the state and a $2,800 fee for every adult and child in the state, analysts said.

The plan is similar to one championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Jealous said he decided in 2016 to support a “Medicare for all” style program.

“It wasn’t because I was supporting Bernie Sanders,” said Jealous, explaining that he was unsuccessful in helping move a kosher lettuce growing operation from Edmonton, Canada, to Baltimore City because of the cost of health care. The factory ultimately located in Toronto near the border with the United States, he said.

A similar health care proposal in California is bottled up in the legislature. A Vermont effort was ultimately abandoned because of concerns about costs to taxpayers.

Jealous disputes the gloom and doom estimates. He said portions of the plan would be paid for by monies already spent on health care.

“At the end of the day, the question small businesses and consumers need to ask themselves is given that the corporations keep charging us more and more and more would we ultimately rather pay a bigger check to a corporation or a smaller check to the government?” said Jealous when asked if his plan would require an increase in taxes.



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