Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Md. legislation seen as boosting access to insurance for critical groups

"Black, Hispanic young adults are two to three times more likely to not have health insurance compared to their counterparts, white young adults. So there’s a health equity component to this, as well,” says Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

“Black, Hispanic young adults are two to three times more likely to not have health insurance compared to their counterparts, white young adults. So there’s a health equity component to this, as well,” says Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

In hopes of reducing the number of uninsured people in Maryland, which currently sits at about 6% of the state’s population, the General Assembly has passed two bills that will make it easier to afford and sign up for health insurance.

One bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Rosapepe in the Senate and Del. Lorig Charkoudian in the House, builds on 2019’s Easy Enrollment Health Insurance Program, which allows Marylanders to indicate on their tax forms that they do not have health insurance and that they would like to receive information about their eligibility for free or reduced-cost coverage.

This year’s bill adds a similar checkbox to weekly unemployment claim verification forms, allowing those who are filing for unemployment benefits to receive that information and get help setting up coverage. A quarter of unemployed Marylanders do not have health insurance, as compared with 6% of the state.

Charkoudian said that she and her colleagues saw the need for this bill as she worked with unemployed people who had been affected by the pandemic as they struggled to receive benefits.

“In the process of doing that, what we found … is, of course, they needed all kinds of other things. They needed SNAP benefits and they needed food and they needed a way to pay for medication, and we found they needed health insurance because of course, for many people, they had had their health insurance through their employment, and they had always had their health insurance through their employment,” she said during a news conference celebrating public health legislation that passed this session. “In that moment of crisis for themselves and their families, they didn’t know where to turn.”

Maryland’s Easy Enrollment program, which was first implemented during the 2020 tax season, helped to insure 4,000 people in its initial year, according to the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. Advocates hope that enrollment for unemployed Marylanders will be similarly successful.

The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously, will be implemented by September. It’s the first legislation of its kind in the nation.

Another health insurance measure, sponsored by Sen. Brian Feldman and Del. Ken Kerr, aims to make health insurance more accessible to young adults, who are the state’s least-insured age category.

Currently, people who cannot afford health insurance but do not qualify for Medicaid can receive subsidies on health insurance premiums if their income is no higher than four times the federal poverty level.

But, advocates of this bill said, those subsidies are not always enough to make health care affordable. Moreover, young people in Maryland have reported that one of their greatest barriers to health insurance is cost, according to a report by the Individual Subsidy Work Group, whose research informed this legislation.

Beyond ensuring that young people have access to insurance, this legislation will also help premiums stay low for the general population, Feldman said at Thursday’s news conference.

“In insurance, particularly in health insurance, you’ve got to keep your young, healthy folks in the insurance risk pool. If you don’t, you’re stuck with an older, sicker population, which causes premiums to go up for everybody else in that marketplace,” he said.

The bill will offer subsidies to people between the ages of 18 and 41 whose income is between 133% and 400% the federal poverty level, through the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange Fund, which currently funds the Exchange and the Reinsurance Program, for the course of a two-year pilot.

The program, which sponsors and advocates hope will later become permanent, will provide up to $20 million in subsidies each year. The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange estimates that 90,000 young adults will be able to take advantage of these subsidies.

In a year that has focused on health equity, with the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affecting Black and Latino people both in Maryland and nationwide, the bill’s sponsors stressed the role of accessible health insurance in reducing health disparities.

“Black, Hispanic young adults are two to three times more likely to not have health insurance compared to their counterparts, white young adults. So there’s a health equity component to this, as well,” Feldman said.

 


To purchase a reprint of this article, contact reprints@thedailyrecord.com.