This bill’s failure in last year’s legislative session was due to the State’s estimate that the cost would be a burden on the fiscal budget. Proponents of the measure believe the cost to the state would not be as much of a burden as originally estimated. Since the qualifications of the bill are so stringent, the cost to the state would be minimal. To qualify, a health professional must donate a minimum of 100 Hours in one fiscal year (but would only receive tax credit for 25% of the served hours after qualifying), billing at $50 per hour. At the Pro Bono Counseling Project our most active clinician served 36 hours in one year, therefore not qualifying for the tax credit.
During the past year, 850 clinicians participating in the Pro Bono Counseling Project, dramatically changing the lives of 833 individuals and families, contributing 3,646 hours of care (more than 32,000 hours over the past thirteen years) and have essentially donated $386,355 worth of counseling during this past year alone ($2,900,000 in fourteen years).
Oregon, California, New York, Minnesota, and Florida have all introduced similar tax credit bills that are currently passing through their respective legislatures. In their 2004 legislative session, Virginia passed a bill nearly identical to Maryland’s 2005 legislative session HB 203.
Unless they can pay out of pocket, the uninsured and low-income population of Maryland who are ineligible for Medical Assistance (rarely available to anyone other than pregnant women and children) cannot make an appointment with a health care professional. Emergency rooms are still the entryway into medical care for most uninsured people in Maryland.
If health professionals are willing to volunteer their expertise and time to compensate for the inequities in the current health care system, shouldn’t we support their generosity? Most clinicians who donate their services will not reach the qualifications set within the proposed bill; however, its passage would be an incentive for health care professionals to donate more hours, and would also be a gesture of appreciation on behalf of Maryland's government.
Barbara K. Anderson is executive director of the Pro Bono Counseling Project; her co-authors are both interns from UMBC.
This story was published on January 4, 2006.