Maryland is one of the nation’s most affluent states, but continues to suffer high rates of infant death, sexually transmitted diseases and kidney disease among minority populations. In a proposal to be unveiled Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) will outline a series of financial incentives that he says could help narrow the health care gap in the state.

Brown’s recommendations, aimed at expanding primary care, and improving the overall health of residents, are based on a study by the Maryland Health Quality and Cost Council Health Disparities Workgroup, headed by University of Maryland School of Medicine Dean Dr. E. Albert Reece.

“Maryland has world class hospitals, top medical schools, and one of the highest rates of primary care physicians per capita, and yet we continue to see disparities in health care and outcomes among Maryland’s racial and ethnic communities,” said Brown.

The workgroup recommended creation of health care zones where tax breaks and other incentives would be available to providers who set up shop; a Maryland Health Innovation Prize, a financial reward and public recognition for an individual, group, organization, or coalition that reduces health care disparities; and closer tracking of racial and ethnic data in programs that already reward hospitals for improving overall care.

A 2006 report found that blacks in Maryland are nearly twice as likely be hospitalized for such treatable conditions as asthma, hypertension and heart failure, costing Medicare an additional $26 million. Nationally, Brown said, data show that between 2003 and 2006, nearly $230 billion could have been saved in direct medical care costs if racial and ethnic health disparities had not existed.

Brown said he hopes a pilot program could be set up this fall that would establish geographic zones which are underserved and need to attract more health care providers. He said one would likely be an urban community, and one likely would be rural.