Md. Experts Find Circuit Court’s Decision Appealing

Published April 1, 2007

Health care experts in Maryland heaved a sigh of relief on January 17 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a decision by a federal district court saying Maryland’s Fair Share Health Care Fund Act, popularly known as the “Wal-Mart law,” violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974.

“I am not at all surprised by the court’s decision,” said Greg Scandlen, president of Consumers for Health Care Choices, a consumer-advocacy membership organization based in Hagerstown, Maryland. “I am, however, disgruntled that the state of Maryland wasted a lot of time and taxpayers’ money on such a futile exercise.”

Harmful Mandates

Chris Summers, president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a nonpartisan public policy research and education organization that focuses on state policy issues, said, “We agree with the court’s decision … The Fair Share Health Care Fund Act was a health care bill that had nothing to do with health care.”

The law, Summers said, was supposedly designed to help the approximately 13 to 14 percent of Marylanders who are uninsured. In reality, it would have extended coverage to only 1,800 to 3,000 people, leaving the percentage of uninsured statewide unchanged.

Meanwhile, Maryland carries 60 state insurance mandates, driving up costs for employers and individuals alike.

“The ‘Wal-Mart law’ clearly targeted one employer and one employer only,” Summers said. “Maryland has some of the most questionable and costly insurance mandates in the country. If you want to get serious about reforming health care in the state, you need to look at revising those mandates.”

‘Pure Politics’

“The Fair Share Health Care Fund Act is mired in pure politics,” Summers said. “I think it sends a horrific message to the business community, particularly to businesses who are considering relocating to or doing business in the state.

“When such businesses see what are clearly rogue actions on the part of the legislature, and these actions target one employer, it sends a very powerful anti-business message,” Summers concluded.

Charlotte LoBuono ([email protected]) writes from New Jersey.