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Legislation would make Obamacare protections Md. law

Del. Shane E. Pendergrass, D-Howard, speaks during a rally to support her bill to allow medically assisted suicide. (Bryan P. Sears / The Daily Record)

Del. Shane E. Pendergrass, D-Howard, shown at a rally on behalf of legislation to allow medically assisted suicide, is sponsoring a bill to codify the Affordable Care Act’s protections for coverage of pre-existing condition into state law. (Bryan P. Sears / The Daily Record)

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers want to ensure the patient protections in the Affordable Care Act continue in the state, even if a ruling by a federal judge throwing out the health care law stands.

The legislation would codify into state law several of the Affordable Care Act’s provisions — protections for people with pre-existing conditions; rules allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health plan until they are 26; and prohibitions on lifetime or annual limits on coverage.

“This is a really important bill because, as we know, the Affordable Care Act is under attack on a daily basis and we want to protect the citizens in Maryland,” said Del. Shane E. Pendergrass, D-Howard and the bill’s sponsor. “This bill would put into state law what is in federal law.”

Pendergrass testified Thursday in front of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, where she serves as chair.

The legislation has enough co-sponsors to pass in both the House and the Senate. The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery.

Last year, a federal judge in Texas ruled that when Congress effectively eliminated the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate penalty, because that penalty was inseverable from the rest of the act, the entire law was unconstitutional.

The judge also stayed his decision pending appeal.

If that ruling is upheld, provisions of the Affordable Care Act that include patient protections, Medicaid expansion and subsidies for people in the individual market would go away.

Pendergrass’ legislation essentially takes the patient protection portions of the Affordable Care Act and places them into state law.

The law would not apply to self-insured, employer-sponsored health plans, which are protected from state regulations by federal law.

The Maryland legislation has the support of Maryland’s insurance providers, including CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and Kaiser Permanente.

Keeping these protections in state law has re-opened a debate about whether these protections served to drive up prices for people in the individual market.

Del. Susan Krebs [Photo: Maryland State Archives]

Del. Susan Krebs [Photo: Maryland State Archives]

The Affordable Care Act’s patient protections have broad popular support, but there is also a cost for the people who have to buy health insurance on the individual market without subsidies, Del. Susan Krebs, R-Carroll, said.

“The people that have to pay out of pocket, the families that are middle income and call me and they don’t have insurance and they are paying $18,000 a year out of their own pocket for this wonderful, wonderful Affordable Care Act, if you polled them they would say this is a mess,” she said. “The people that are left are paying these huge huge premiums for all of these wonderful things, and we are going to mandate that.”

House Democrats hope to lower prices by bringing more people into the market. They believe legislation aimed at making another part of the Affordable Care Act state law, requiring an individual mandate, would help accomplish that.

Legislation scheduled to be heard next week would bring a state-based penalty for people without insurance to Maryland, while also serving to more proactively try to enroll people in the market who may qualify for subsidies.

“The 2017 federal law that created this problem gutted the individual mandate, which we think is a serious issue,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative and a supporter of the mandate legislation. “We hope that at some point you will give consideration to the (mandate proposal) to protect Maryland even more.”

The legislation considered Thursday would also extend by three years the Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection Commission. That commission has been responsible for helping to craft Maryland’s response to changes to the Affordable Care Act.

The commission has also been charged with working to find a long-term fix for the cost of coverage on the individual market.

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