Earlier this year, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley built special Health Enterprise Zones into his proposed 2012–2013 budget. These zones—consisting of communities that experience large health disparities—can now add medical and support services for minorities, giving incentives to new and existing medical professionals to work in the area.
The proposed program would work similarly to economic enterprise zones, where businesses receive subsidies to create jobs and activity in certain areas. New and existing primary-care practitioners could receive loan assistance repayment; income, property, or hiring tax credits; and assistance in installing health information and other technology. Local health departments might get involved in recruiting participants too.
Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown and Dr. E. Albert Reece, Dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, formed a work group to study health disparities in Maryland. According to the group, treating these and other illnesses is extremely expensive, costing nearly $230 billion in direct medical costs that could have been saved between 2003–2006 if there were no racial and ethnic health disparities.
State data show that in 2010, the mortality rates among black infants remained almost three times as high as among white infants. In addition, African Americans in Maryland are 16 times more likely to die from HIV/AIDS than whites.
If legislation to create the zones is passed, Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will work out the details. Although the first initiatives will primarily be a test run, the hope is to expand the program statewide if the first few years of the program are successful.