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Senate approves emergency health care bill in preliminary vote

The Maryland Senate late Monday approved a bill that would provide insurance benefits to people who were unsuccessful in their attempt to sign up for coverage through the state health benefits exchange website.

Senate Health Care Bill Vote

The Maryland Senate late Monday gave preliminary approval to an amended version of an emergency health care bill by a vote of 36-8 largely along party lines.

The Senate voted 36-8 in a preliminary vote on an amended emergency legislation.

The Senate amendments allow the insurance program to extend benefits beyond March 31 to individuals who continue to be unsuccessful at registering for insurance. The bill would also allow the board to develop the regulations it needs, but it would have to notify the legislature within 15 days of creating them. Another amendment sunsets the bill on June 30, 2015.

The plan could cost as much s $12 million to cover an estimated 200 to 5,000 people. A number of others can still apply for private insurance coverage through four companies until 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said he believes the cost of the plan, which is funded through the high-risk pool known as the Maryland Health Insurance Program, will encourage people to seek other less expensive options.

So far, 458 households have applied for the extended-deadline private insurance rather than seek insurance through the emergency bridge plan, said Middleton, D-Charles.

Legislators raised concerns about ongoing costs. Middleton said no additional money from the general fund would be used if the program uses up its current $150 million in reserves.

“It’s understood if this money is used up, there won’t be a general fund appropriation,” Middleton said.

Sen David Brinkley, R-Frederick and Senate Minority Leader, called on legislators to pass the emergency bill saying it was “for the relief of those that have been harmed” by the failure of the current exchange.

“It’s not a partisan issue,” Brinkley said. “It’s not anything like that of the sort.”

The majority of Senate Republicans saw it differently with eight of the 12 GOP members voting against the emergency legislation.

The Senate is expected to take up a final vote on the bill on Tuesday. The House of Delegates has yet to vote on a version of the bill in that chamber.