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General Assembly aims to ease health enrollment

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The Maryland House of Delegates, by a bipartisan margin of 120-9, has passed HB 814, sponsored by Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk, which will create what is being called the Maryland Easy Enrollment Health Program.

Should the Senate also pass this measure and Gov. Larry Hogan signs it into law, the measure will make Maryland the first state in the nation to actively use the tax system to enroll uninsured citizens into health care coverage. The program will enroll tens of thousands of now uninsured people into free or low cost health care plans, which will help keep premiums down for all citizens.

The original proposal, also introduced by Peña-Melnyk in the House and by Sen. Brian Feldman as SB 802 in the Senate, would also have established what was called a “down payment” plan, in which uninsured people who could afford health care coverage but chose not to get it would owe an individual responsibility payment to the state, which could also be used to pay for health care coverage.

Even without that part of the approach, backers of the enactment of HB 814/SB 802 are saying I will substantially increase the number of Maryland residents with health care coverage. Legislators have said that they are ready to consider adding financial incentives, like the down payment plan, if the new enrollment system does not achieve its goals.

The bill thus directs the comptroller to build a new IT system for individual income taxes to support collection of individual responsibility payments, equipping the legislature to act quickly should that turns out to be necessary. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the number of uninsured Marylanders has dropped from more 700,000 to about 400,000. With the Maryland Easy Enrollment Health Program, that number is intended to drop significantly more.