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Exchange readies state for health care law

The General Assembly spent much time and effort this session getting the state ready for the implementation of federal health care reform.

“Health reform is only as good as states’ abilities to implement reform,” said Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown. “A year ago, the president signed into law the Affordable Care Act and in Maryland we’ve been moving forward on implementing reform.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley signed legislation Tuesday that will create the framework needed to establish a public health care exchange for individuals and small businesses to compare and buy insurance policies. The new law establishes a Board of Trustees of the Exchange that will consist of the secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the insurance commissioner, the executive director of the Maryland Health Care Commission, and six members who will be appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate.

“This is a huge deal,” said Del. Kirill Reznik, D-Montgomery. “It’s a great start to what will eventually be a great process for us to get uninsured Marylanders health insurance.”

The state has received $997,227 in federal funds to implement the program, which has to be in place by Jan. 1, 2014. The bill passed handily in the House of Delegates on a 115-22 vote in March. The Senate approved the measure 33-12 on the last day of the session.

Lawmakers said getting the bill to a vote was a lengthy process that involved hearing from many of the affected parties.

“I think if you ask anyone who was impacted by this bill, they’ll say it was a good process,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles.

“It was not a tough road to get it passed, but it was a very labor-intensive bill,” Reznik said. “But, at the end of the day, I think it is something everyone can get behind.”

A second bill in the health care reform package brings state law in line with federal guidelines. More of a housecleaning measure, the changes include adding measures that are part of the federal act such as raising the age for which children can stay on a parent’s policy to 27 years old.

Brown said the health care reform package passed this year is only the beginning.

“We’ve got more work and probably even more difficult work next session,” he said. “We’re going to make health insurance more affordable in Maryland and we’re going to expand it to more and more Marylanders.”

Del. Dan K. Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, said the session also addressed concerns raised by allegations of unnecessary coronary stent procedures. One bill, HB 600, increases the number of state agencies that can access normally confidential information in reports from the Maryland Board of Physicians.

A second bill, HB 286, would require hospitals to objectively evaluate the performance of each member of the medical staff as a condition of licensing. The bill passed unanimously in the House and the Senate.

“These are big issues,” Morhaim, a physician, said. “These bills should be able to help stop problems before they happen.”