Baltimore Sun Examines Debate Over Howard County, Md., Health Program
About 200 uninsured people have enrolled in the Howard County, Md., Healthy Howard program since it began on Oct. 1, 2008, county health officer Peter Beilenson told a county council budget panel, the Baltimore Sun reports. Healthy Howard is a network of local doctors who charge members between $50 and $115 monthly for comprehensive medical coverage. The program uses health coaches to improve residents' overall health and seeks to lower costs related to emergency care over time. Beilenson had set a goal of enrolling 2,000 people in the program's first year. According to Beilenson, "The biggest problem with all this is me. I made the definition of success this arbitrary 2,000 number." His new prediction is for 908 enrollees by July 2010. He said, "I think it's very clear people just don't know about it." He added that some residents are hesitant to pay even a small monthly charge during the continuing recession.
County council member Greg Fox questioned if the enrollment level justifies a second county outlay of $500,000 for the program in fiscal year 2010, adding that he supports cutting county funding in half for the program in that year. Supporters of the program, however, say it needs more time and money in order to succeed, noting that enrollees have been seeing doctors through the program only since January.
Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis said the program "seems like it's off to a great start" compared with similar local programs nationwide. She added that the program has helped 2,500 county residents, including children, find coverage through state and federal insurance programs, in part thanks to an electronic enrollment system that identifies programs they are eligible for. Howard Health Department Director of Policy and Planning Glenn Schneider said, "None of those applications would have happened without announcing the (Healthy Howard) program" (Carson, Baltimore Sun, 5/18).