Our country and our state are suffering from overlapping health crises.
From COVID-19, to addiction and mental health challenges, Marylanders are suffering from lack of leadership at the state level. Tom has what it takes to provide this sustained executive leadership to coordinate the efforts of the health department, local governments, and health care practitioners and restore the public health of Marylanders from across the state. Tom previously served as Director of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, ensuring all Americans had the right to seek and receive care that was affordable and accessible. He has a proven track record of fighting for health care coverage for all Marylanders, regardless of income, zip code, disability, or immigration status. And he is ready to fight to protect a woman’s right to make health decisions about her own body in Maryland. As Governor, Tom will continue this fight for reproductive rights, health care for all, and health equity across the state of Maryland.
Affordable, Accessible Health Care for all Marylanders
Two decades ago, infectious disease experts warned that our country was uniquely vulnerable to epidemics because, unlike every other affluent nation, the United States has millions of residents without health insurance. Many who lack health coverage cannot afford to seek medical attention, even if they feel sick. A highly contagious virus “left undetected” because a person chose to forego care could “spread to family, neighbors, and other contacts,” making health insurance gaps “a risk to the nation’s health.”
These warnings came tragically true last year when the deadliest pandemic in more than a century hit. Based on peer-reviewed research, the non-partisan consumer group Families USA linked 25% of Maryland’s COVID-19 deaths to our state’s failure to guarantee everyone health coverage.
Regrettably, the glaring health disparities that have long existed but became so evident during the pandemic led to significantly more sickness and death in communities of color – not only because those disparities left people of color more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID, but also because people of color are more likely to lack the coverage they need to seek care. All of us need affordable health care that can never be taken away – but for some of us, that goal is particularly distant.
Maryland has done better than many other states. We cover 94 percent of our residents – that’s above the national average and far more than before President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. But Tom knows that 94 percent isn’t good enough anymore. It leaves more than 347,000 people without coverage. With so many lives needlessly lost to the pandemic, we can longer afford gaps in access to essential health care. Our goal must be 100 percent.
Tom wants to automate and streamline enrollment into coverage whenever possible. Maryland took important steps in this direction by creating the nation’s first Easy Enrollment program that lets people sign up for health care when they file state tax returns or claim unemployment benefits, but we can take this effort to the next level. More than 230,000 Maryland residents without health insurance – almost 70 percent of our state’s uninsured – now qualify for Medicaid or federal help buying private health insurance. It’s time to sign them up.
We must also address the glaring health disparities which impact communities of color in our state. The Maryland General Assembly created a new Health Equity Resource Communities program to improve health care in disadvantaged communities, and Tom is committed to fully implementing and strengthening this program.
Maryland should also join the handful of other states that guarantee health care to hard-working immigrants, regardless of their status. During the pandemic, these front-line workers have cared for our sick, grown and prepared our food, and delivered goods to our doors. They are taxpayers, and they contribute to social security with every paycheck, just like the rest of us. Woven into the fabric of our community, our undocumented friends and neighbors should never be turned away when they get sick and need help. Denying them health care is not only wrong – it is foolish. If someone avoids the doctor because they can't get health insurance, we pay far more when they turn to the hospital emergency room, where the unaffordable costs get passed to the rest of us.
Tom and Shannon will do this by:
- Streamlining enrollment into coverage whenever possible, including when filing state tax returns, claiming unemployment benefits, seeking health care, or registering for school.
- Empowering small businesses to provide insurance and attract employees by matching contributions to employees’ health insurance premiums, and assisting business owners with Medicaid or the Maryland Health Connection enrollment.
- Fully implementing and strengthening the Health Equity Resource Communities program to improve health in disadvantaged communities.
- Fostering better coordination between Maryland’s justice and health care systems by automatically enrolling justice-involved individuals in Medicaid upon release.
Mental and Behavioral Health
Nearly 800,000 Marylanders have a mental health condition, and our youth have disproportionately experienced a rise in untreated mental health conditions in the wake of the pandemic. Half of teenagers experiencing depression have not received the mental health care they need in the last year. Many of those experiencing mental health challenges are diverted into our criminal justice system instead of getting the help they need. Tom and Shannon have spent their careers fighting for health care and justice, and as a Baltimore City Councilwoman, Shannon fought to reduce the number of people with mental illness in our jails. A Perez-Sneed Administration will utilize a trauma-informed and restorative approach to expanding and improving mental health care by:
- Establishing 24/7 mobile crisis teams across Maryland to respond to emergency mental health crises in partnership with local nonprofits and existing health care practitioners.
- Providing short-term stabilization centers across the state for those who need support beyond a mobile crisis response.
- Developing the mental health workforce by providing scholarships and targeted loans to students entering the field and providing grants to clinics to ensure they can hire, train, and deploy mental health workers.
- Investing in school-based health centers to ensure that young Marylanders have immediate responses to issues directly within their communities through grants and enhanced Medicaid reimbursement.
- Enforcing network adequacy requirements which hold insurance companies responsible for having an adequate amount of mental health practitioners.
- Increasing access to tele-mental health by continuing pandemic regulatory flexibilities.
With the recent attack on women's right to choose from the Supreme Court, we know now more than ever that defending women’s health care rights will depend on state leadership. Tom has the experience, skills, and drive to provide this leadership and ensure all women have full access to the care they need. As Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Tom reinforced federal laws that protect women’s access to reproductive care without harassment or intimidation. During his time serving on the Montgomery County Council, Tom fought to provide access to health care for all pregnant women, regardless of immigration status. As the next Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, Tom and Shannon will continue the fight to fiercely protect reproductive freedoms, remove barriers to care, and derail any effort to undermine access to abortion. This means:
- Working with the Maryland General Assembly to pass a Constitutional amendment to further enshrine the fundamental right to abortion into the fabric of our laws.
- Expanding access to reproductive health care by integrating reproductive health services into our primary care system and ensuring that clinics across the state can provide equal access to the full suite of reproductive health care that women need.
- Providing targeted support for fertility, prenatal, and postpartum resources to Black women by fully funding health care providers that engage in black women-specific interventions to ensure every baby born in Maryland has a healthy birth.
- Investing in Maryland’s home visiting program from birth to 3 years old in order to treat postpartum depression, increase breastfeeding, and improve pre-K enrollment.
Addiction and Overdose
In 2020, Maryland suffered its most devastating year on record when nearly 3,000 lives were lost to drug and alcohol overdoses, with one-third of these fatalities occurring in Baltimore City. This devastating number marks over a 300% increase over the past 10 years, due in part to the rampant increase in Fentanyl in the drug supply across our country and across our state. Marylanders are suffering and overdoses have spiked during the pandemic as economic stress, unemployment, and weakened social connections have increased. Many of these deaths of despair are avoidable, and it’s time we provide evidence-based treatments and harm-reduction services for those in need. Tom will work to ensure Marylanders receive the addiction care they need by:
- Providing the full spectrum of overdose and addiction care based on the needs of individuals, including emergency response, community-based services, out-patient care, and in-patient care.
- Prioritizing harm-reduction strategies by establishing a low-threshold treatment approach across the state, including same-day treatment entry and medication access.
- Providing Fentanyl testing strips to nonprofits and advocates serving vulnerable populations.
- Providing free childcare to women who are looking for or actively participating in addiction treatment.
- Providing a job guarantee to incentivize individuals to enter into addiction treatment and pursue sober living.
- Providing addiction treatment to incarcerated individuals before and after release by expanding Medicaid waivers to ensure returning citizens have the resources necessary to reenter society healthily.
- Legalizing and regulating cannabis to prevent access by children and minimize addiction, including by requiring warning labels on packaging, regulating advertising, and enforcing non-smoking laws.
Long before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, our state was suffering from a shortage of health professionals. Now, between the long hours, challenging working conditions, and unprecedented burnout, the healthcare worker shortage poses a crisis of its own. Earlier this year, the Maryland Hospital Association reported nearly 4,000 vacancies. This means that we are woefully unprepared to care for our aging population, address the COVID-19 pandemic, and address the health needs of everyday Marylanders. As Governor, I will strengthen our healthcare workforce by recruiting new professionals, retaining our existing healthcare workforce, and ensuring that these essential workers have fair pay and sustainable working conditions. This means:
- Establishing a Healthcare Workforce Taskforce to develop a plan to address our crisis-level understaffing at all levels in the medical field, from nurses to sanitary workers and to match the pace of innovation and future care needs.
- Closing the pay gap in healthcare jobs by establishing internal career ladders and training to enable staff advancement within, between, and beyond current occupations and professional scope.
- Providing free community college to ensure that young professionals can enter the healthcare workforce with fewer barriers.
- Leveraging proximity to military bases and launching the “Green to Blue” campaign to quickly transition retired military personnel with caregiver experience.
- Partnering with neighboring states to enhance health care licensure portability so state borders have less of an impact on access to telehealth.
The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated our state and exacerbated many of the social problems we already faced. We must be prepared to fight the next variant and the next pandemic when, not if, it arrives to ensure that our state, our health care system, and our communities do not have to relive the destruction of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tom will combat COVID-19 and prepare our state for the next pandemic by:
- Developing an agile crisis response plan with an all-hazards approach so that we are better prepared for the next crisis before it strikes.
- Providing COVID-19 tests and medical-grade masks to every Marylander to ensure that everyone can protect themselves as we continue to live with COVID-19.
- Investing in robust data collection and analysis to better understand how COVID-19 travels through our communities and the best strategies to mitigate its impact.
- Strengthening our entire social support system to ensure that, even in times of crisis, we can still rely on our housing, transportation, education, and other infrastructure.
Prescription Drug Affordability
Currently, 1 in 4 Americans can’t afford their prescription drugs. Life-saving prescription drugs don’t work if they are financially out of reach. Throughout his career, Tom has worked to drive down health care expenses by tackling the rising cost of prescription drugs. In 2004, while serving on the Montgomery County Council, Tom worked to secure affordable prescription drugs for county residents by implementing a prescription drug discount card. In that same year, the council invested $300,000 in a community pharmacy that served the estimated 80,000 residents without health insurance. As governor, Tom will continue to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for all Marylanders by:
- Spearhead legislation to give the Prescription Drug Affordability Board the full authority, funding, and resources it needs to use upper payment limits to make high cost drugs more affordable for all Marylanders.
- Empowering the Prescription Drug Affordability Board to conduct bulk purchasing, novel contracting, Medicaid negotiations, and set upper limits on costs.
- Coordinating state agencies to ensure a consistent approach to tackling prescription drug affordability on behalf of citizens, taxpayers, and patients.
- Leveraging Maryland’s unique all-payer hospital payment system to drive down the cost of prescription drugs.
- Requiring insurers to provide data and invest in data transparency to ensure fair pricing across public and private industry.