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Md. health exchange bill to be submitted next week

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration will submit emergency legislation at the start of Maryland’s legislative session next week aimed at insuring people who thought they had successfully enrolled in a health care plan through the state’s health exchange but had not — through no fault of their own, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown announced Friday.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (The Daily Record / Rich Dennison)

Brown said between a few hundred and 5,000 people fall into the category. Under the proposed legislation, they would be insured through the Maryland Health Insurance Program, a separate safety net plan that has served as a high-risk pool for state residents without insurance. It would cover people retroactively to Jan. 1.

“We want to make sure that they’re covered, and we’re going to look to our safety net,” Brown said during a news conference with Gov. Martin O’Malley, referring to the Maryland Health Insurance Program.

The program requires enrollees to pay a premium on a sliding scale, depending on their ability to pay. It is subsidized by the state. Brown estimated it could cost as much as $10 million for the potential number of added enrollees.

The administration has been in contact with the presiding officers of the Legislature, and Brown expressed confidence the bill will move swiftly to O’Malley’s desk in the opening days of the legislative session, which begins Wednesday.

With the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act, states had the option of expanding Medicaid and forming their own health insurance exchanges, or allowing the federal government to run an exchange. Maryland chose to run its own.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said hearings related to the proposed new legislation will include discussion about why a contractor was hired to run the state health exchange program, which had trouble with its website on the day it debuted Oct. 1. He also said lawmakers will have questions about how disagreements between the contractor and subcontractor influenced delays, and how many people tried to sign up but were precluded from doing so.

“That will necessarily become a part of it,” Miller, D-Calvert, said, adding that he believes the administration has done a remarkable job fixing a very complex program.

Republican critics have called for an investigation into the health care exchange problems.

The announcement about expanding the state’s safety net came as Maryland updated its number of enrollments through the exchange, which has improved in recent weeks. As of last Friday, the most recent date for which data are available, about 18,000 people had enrolled in private health insurance plans. The administration has been aiming to sign up 150,000 in private plans by March 31.

The state has had many more enrollments through Medicaid, which boosts the number of people enrolled in the Affordable Care Act in Maryland to 152,892. The O’Malley administration hopes to enroll a total of 260,000 people by March 31. O’Malley said he believed more will receive coverage through Medicaid than initially estimated.

O’Malley, a Democrat, said the state is considering the possibility of switching from a state-run health exchange to the federal exchange, either completely or in part, if necessary. He also mentioned the possibility of partnering with other states.

“Whatever works best to serve the greatest numbers of people most quickly is what we will do,” O’Malley said.

Still, Brown said the legislation to be submitted next week would be needed to extend the existing safety net program.

“There are some that believe that they’re enrolled for insurance and they’re not, so we would still need to modify that program to cover those people until they get insurance through the exchange, whether it’s a state exchange or any other exchange,” Brown said.

It is unknown exactly how many people think they have insurance coverage but don’t, which is one of the main remaining problems with the exchange’s computer system, O’Malley said.