Apr 26, 2011 10:49PM ● Published by Anonymous
One thing gained this year was my work towards articulating the unintended consequences of the federal health care reform. It is especially critical that physicians are guaranteed a “seat at the table” when addressing the different health care issues we worked on. By allowing physicians to have an equal – and constant - voice, they can make sure things don’t move too fast on such reforms that could result in limiting care to those in Maryland because of an exodus of physicians and other providers.
The legislature also continued to chip away at the budget, including reduced funding for hospitals. This was actually the second year in a row that cuts had been made to hospitals, Medicaid, and Medicaid reimbursements to physicians, nursing homes and others. And although income was hoped to be raised with three new taxes (gas, alcohol and combined reporting), only the alcohol tax passed – and that occurred at the last minute. At the so called 11th hour, the proposed alcohol tax at the wholesale level turned into a 9% sales tax at the retail level. Everyone – from the arts community to the aging population to the environment - got their hair cut in this year’s budget, and it’s hard to imagine what will be trimmed next year – yet alone if they will even get through this year with everything that was cut. For all I know, there might be a special session to address the financial situation when it comes to certain entitlement programs. It is hard sometimes to understand how the feds can realistically call for us to do more and do it better but with less money.
With the money simply not being there this year, there is no question that more is to be done in the future as people try to get that funding to start new endeavors or continue current ones. And with a 23% turnover of the General Assembly, this year was just as much about reaching out to new members as it was tackling specific issues. But that outreach is one of the reasons I am still in Annapolis every January-April after 30+ years. This session was especially important in having such opportunities to connect with people and learn who they are and how they work. Looking back, I could not have found more pleasure in working with one veteran legislator who, without pause or any concern about political implications, did all she could to get the work done. At the same time, I was lucky to interact with a freshmen member who was as thoughtful, hardworking, and sincere in his work as any Jimmy Stewart character you would see in a Frank Capra movie. The introduction of one bill also allowed me to pick up the phone to talk with someone I had spent three decades staying social with after we initially met when just starting our careers in Annapolis. And guess what… it was fun to talk to him about something of substance. The fact is, when you work a bill, you depend on each other to get to the final result. That is why such interactions – whether it’s someone new to the whole game, a well-established veteran, or someone to reconnect with – make everything worthwhile. It’s also why 2011 was one of the more special sessions.
So the 2011 legislative session has officially ended – or to play on the Latin meaning of Sine Die, there is no day left, come tomorrow. Yet, if you haven’t caught on yet from my other writings, the end of the session never means the end of work. The legislators go back home to campaign and strategize about what bills to introduce (or reintroduce) come 2012. Summer study groups are formed on bills that got delayed in committee. Advisory committees examine issues and send recommendations to the legislature. And advocates stay involved – staying in touch with the stakeholders and seeing what next steps are needed to achieve success. One thing that happens when working in Annapolis is that while it’s easy to say “I trust you” to a legislator or appointed official, you also quietly think “but will you still be here next year.” There is no way to know what the future will be comprised of - but I still hope that individuals such as those that I met this year, who do stick their neck out for the right cause and are sincere and dedicated to their constituents, continue to show up each January in Annapolis.
And remember – just because the session may be over, it does not mean that your representatives are off the clock. So pick up the phone, go online, or get out a pen and paper, and let them hear from you too.