ANNAPOLIS, Md. — “Health Care for All,” a broad labor-community coalition here, has warned Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who is seeking a second term, that health care, including affordable prescription drugs, will be a decisive issue for Maryland voters in the Nov. 7 election.

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, and Fred Mason, president of the Maryland state and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, sent a letter to Ehrlich asking him to “pick up the phone and give President Bush a call” to ask him to grant Maryland a waiver so that 40,000 low-income people in the state can obtain prescription drugs at Medicaid-negotiated prices, an estimated 40 percent savings for individuals with annual earnings of $19,140 or less.

The waiver is needed to implement HB 1143, passed unanimously by the Maryland General Assembly and signed by Ehrlich during its last session.

Maryland state officials say they were told informally by the Bush administration that it has rejected the waiver request.

Speaking at a news conference in an African American church a few blocks from the Maryland Statehouse, July 19, DeMarco demanded, “Why can’t Bob Ehrlich get us this waiver? Has he called President Bush and asked him to give us this waiver? It’s a serious problem when he can’t use his friendship with Bush to help 40,000 low-income people in Maryland. Are the pharmaceutical companies so powerful they can block this waiver?”

Johanna Neumann, an organizer for the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, distributed a PIRG report, “Paying the Price: The High Cost of Prescription Drugs for Uninsured Americans,” which revealed that Maryland’s uninsured pay 62 percent more for drugs than what drug companies charge the federal government.

The coalition played the leading role in pushing the Fair Share Health Care bill through the Legislature. Ehrlich vetoed the bill but the Legislature overrode it. The law is sometimes called the “Wal-Mart Health Care” plan because it requires big corporations like Wal-Mart to provide health benefits for their workers. A federal judge recently overturned the law as placing an unfair burden on Wal-Mart.

“The attorney general of Maryland is going to appeal that ruling,” DeMarco told the World. “We feel it is a wrong decision and we expect it to be reversed. This was a precedent-setting bill. Other states are continuing to fight for passage of measures that force corporations to pay their fair share for health care for their workers.”

The AFL-CIO’s Fred Mason told the World, “We feel that health care is a top issue in the 2006 election. Forty-six million people in this country are without health care. This is not going to go away. We must elect lawmakers who are responsive to the needs and demands of the people instead of the pharmaceutical industry.”

Ezekiel Jackson, organizer of SEIU-backed Maryland for Health Care (MHC), told the news conference that Ehrlich can “put the walk behind the talk” by phoning Bush and demanding the waiver. Earlier, Lyndsey Husek, an MHC organizer, told a revealing story. Part of her job is to go to as many campaign rallies as possible, whether Democratic, Republican or Green Party, to hold up placards and pass out “Health Care for All” leaflets.

Ehrlich and his Democratic rival, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, announced their candidacies on the same day. In his speech, O’Malley pointed Husek out in the crowd and vowed to support health care if elected.

A few hours later, she went to Ehrlich’s news conference. An Ehrlich aide angrily branded her an O’Malley infiltrator and ordered her to leave. When she insisted her effort was “nonpartisan” and she was on public property, the aide called the police.

“I think it’s incredible that the Ehrlich campaign considers me an enemy because I am standing there holding a sign that says ‘Health Care for All,’” Husek told the World.

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