The six-step process for Marylanders to sign up for health insurance (Courtesy of Maryland Health Connection)
The six-step process for Marylanders to sign up for health insurance (Courtesy of Maryland Health Connection)

Marylanders who still haven’t filed their state tax returns and need health insurance have less three weeks to do so.

The Maryland Easy Enrollment Health Insurance program provides residents with an option to share information such as household size and income to see if they’re eligible for free or low-cost insurance.

A person simply checks a box that will be assessed by the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange to determine eligibility. The deadline to enroll is July 15.

So far, more than 40,000 people have checked the box on their income tax returns since the program launched in January, thanks to legislation passed by the General Assembly. About 4,000 residents have already enrolled, mostly in Medicaid.

To remind Marylanders about the enrollment program, a digital ad featuring Baltimore Orioles legend Eddie Murray will run through July 15.

“We’re very blessed to be in Maryland. Maryland is really a leader in a very humble way,” said Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-District 21) of College Park, who sponsored legislation in the House to establish the exchange program that marked Maryland as the first state in the nation to create one.

Earlier this month, Colorado lawmakers passed a similar measure for an easy enrollment program that will go into effect in 2022 when people file tax returns next year.

As other states continue to seek ways to provide health insurance during the coronavirus pandemic and maintain provisions of the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, a federal lawsuit looms later this year.

Republican-led states and backed by the Trump administration filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court to determine if individual mandate in the ACA is unconstitutional.

If the court rules in favor of the administration, then major provisions would be eliminated such as patients losing coverage for preexisting conditions. Additionally, parents with children 26 or younger would be taken off their parent’s health insurance plan.

Maryland lawmakers approved legislation this year to codify those provisions into law.

“We decided to not wait to see what the Supreme Court does and we codified into Maryland law a number of consumer protections,” said state Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery County), who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “In the event the Supreme Court rules the ACA unconstitutional, in Maryland, you’re going to be protected.”

Peña-Melnyk and Feldman, two of the state leading lawmakers on health care legislation, participated in a telephone town hall on June 17 to not only encourage residents to enroll in the state’s insurance program but also answer questions on health-related topics.

One person asked if someone loses a job, could he or she opt in to the state’s health insurance program or use the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), a federal law that allows a person to remain with their existing insurance carrier for up to 18 months. However, that person usually pays the employer and employee share of coverage.

Michelle Eberle, executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange that operates the marketplace, said residents should research the insurance options at marylandhealthconnection.gov.

“The critical thing is that if you enroll in your COBRA plan, you then have to stay enrolled and exhaust that plan before you can come and buy a plan through the exchange,” she said on the telephone town hall. “Please just come and shop around. It’s really easy on the site … and see what options are available.”

Meanwhile, the state unveiled another first in the nation this year: a prescription drug affordability board that held its first meeting this year.

The five-member board composed of college professors, an ophthalmologist and the state’s former health secretary has the authority to assess and recommend how to make drugs more affordable for Maryland residents. The board seeks to analyze a cap on drug prices to make them inexpensive.

Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed legislation passed this year to provide the board an annual budget.

According to the bill, the board was slated to receive $2 million annually through 2025.

An additional $250,000 would be provided from 2021 to 2023 as “special fund expenditures” to repay the Maryland Health Care Commission. The board received $750,000 this year to begin its work.

“The Prescription Drug Affordability Board has been working hard to understand how the high cost of drugs is hurting average Marylanders,” Van Mitchell, chair of the board, said in a statement. “We have the temporary funding we need to continue that work, but we urge the General Assembly to support our efforts, override the governor’s veto and establish a permanent funding mechanism for the board’s critically important mission.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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