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Maryland Fair Share Decision: A Setback for Maryland, Not for Other States' Reform Efforts

For Immediate Release July 20, 2006
Maryland Fair Share Decision: A Setback for Maryland, Not for Other States' Reform Efforts State Governments Have Options to Move Forward
Helena, MT ”“ While the ruling by a federal judge that Maryland’s Fair Share Health Care law violates ERISA is a setback for Maryland health care advocates, it should not be viewed as a setback for other state efforts to require irresponsible employers like Wal-Mart to contribute for their employee health costs, according to the Progressive States Network. “This decision is obviously not good news, but state leaders should feel assurance that they can continue to promote innovative solutions to solve America’s health care crisis,”? said Nathan Newman, Progressive States policy director. While the decision was hailed as good news by Wal-Mart and their allies, it should be clear that the decision was narrowly tailored and that options remain for other states:
  • First, Maryland’s attorney general has already announced plans to appeal. This decision may well be overturned by a higher court, since advocates argue the judge ignored the clear language of the statute.
  • Second, the judge took care to note that his decision narrowly applies to Maryland’s law: "I am expressing no opinion," wrote the court, "on whether legislative approaches taken by other States to the problems of health care delivery and its attendant costs would be preempted by ERISA."
  • Third, multiple courts have already found that prevailing wage laws ”“ which usually include a mandate for construction firms to provide benefits such as health care -- are valid under ERISA, so proposals like the "big box" retail ordinance currently being debated in the city of Chicago, which is modeled on such prevailing wage models, should be unaffected by the decision.
  • Finally, even the Maryland judge wrote off Wal-Mart’s argument that it is somehow unconstitutional for health regulations to treat larger employers differently from smaller firms.”?
“When you’ve got the biggest company in the world fighting tooth and nail to avoid providing decent benefits ”“ what signal does that send? Wal-Mart’s efforts in this case are absolutely mind-boggling. If they spent one-tenth the effort finding decent and affordable health insurance for their employees that they spend on fighting these innovative measures, a big portion of America’s health care crisis would be solved,”? said Joel Barkin, executive director of the Progressive States Network. The Progressive States Network plans to continue working with legislators to promote state policy solutions to the American health care crisis. Nathan Newman is available for interviews to discuss the implications of the Maryland court decision. Newman received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California-Berkeley and his J.D. from Yale Law School. He is well-versed in the both health care policy and the legal details in ERISA. The Progressive States Network was founded in 2005 to drive public policy debates and change the political landscape in the United States by focusing on attainable and progressive state level actions.