A recent Rand Corp. report highlighting Prince George’s County summarized how residents in communities inside the Beltway such as Suitland have lower incomes, experience a decrease in population and adult primary-care physicians and specialists operate near county hospitals outside the Beltway.
In contrast, residents who live in neighborhoods and municipalities such as the city of Greenbelt have higher incomes and growing populations.
Del. Jazz Lewis (D-District 24) of Glenarden gave a startling statistic: there’s a 16-year life expectancy gap between Suitland and Greenbelt. In other words, people who live in Suitland may die sooner.
“As a basic principle, that should mean that everyone gets high quality, affordable health care no matter where they live, no matter their zip code,” he said. “It’s time for us to expand access to quality care now.”
That’s why Lewis and his fellow District 24 partner, Del. Erek Barron, are pushing for legislation increase the state’s alcohol tax from nine percent to 10 percent.
The goal would be for the money to establish grants toward health coverage, community outreach efforts, substance abuse programs and other societal needs in underserved communities.
With the county’s new regional medical center in Largo scheduled to open this spring, Barron said adding this incentive would help boost health care for municipalities in his district such Capitol Heights, Fairmount Heights and Seat Pleasant. They are located inside the Beltway.
“If we add this proposal to it, we’re in a place (to) preventing the racial and ethnic disparities that plague our community,” he said. “A number of our municipalities stand to benefit.”
A similar bill has been filed in the state Senate by Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City). The bill, SB172, would allow colleges and universities, nonprofit hospitals, nonprofit organizations and local governments to apply for the money.
Barron and Hayes have the support of more than 250 groups, including Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“We understand that health place matters. Place shapes where we go, who we see, where we learn, where we eat and what services we have access to,” said Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels during a virtual press conference Friday, Jan. 8. “We know that addressing needs and equity is not only possible, but highly feasible.”
The program, labeled Health Equity Research Communities, will mirror the state’s former Health Enterprise Zones. The four-year pilot program ended in 2016 with an annual $4 million budget to reduce health disparities among race in geographic areas, cut health care costs and improve access in underserved communities.
This current proposal seeks to establish $14 million in each of the first two years and about $22 million annually thereafter.
Because bar and restaurant owners have been hurt by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the tax wouldn’t affect them for two years. However, the tax would be passed along to those who buy alcohol and retail stores.
The Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association already noted in its journal this month that the group doesn’t support a tax increase.
“Customers tend to shop with their feet. It won’t take them long to figure out that some of our surrounding states have a lower tax burden,” said attorney and association lobbyist J. Steven “Steve” Wise.
If approved, the law would go into effect on Oct. 1.