**FILE** Students cheer as they hold up signs indicating the numbers of people in different states who would lose healthcare coverage, now over written with "still covered" stickers, after the Supreme Court decided that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may provide nationwide tax subsidies, Thursday June 25, 2015, outside of the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

When former President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into legislation 10 years ago on March 23, it was one of the most monumental moments in U.S. history in terms of health care.

The uninsured rate for those between ages 18 and 64 stood at 22 percent when first passed. In 2016, the figure dropped to 12 percent.

“It protected preexisting conditions, cut the uninsured rate in half, and lots more,” Obama tweeted Monday, March 23. “But it’s still under political attack right when we need care the most. We have to protect it, build on it, until we cover everyone.”

Today, the law also called Obamacare continues to be attacked by Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration to repeal the act. A lawsuit backed by the administration to challenge the act’s constitutionality remains scheduled to be heard in the Supreme Court later this year.

But that still didn’t deter some Maryland federal and state officials and health care advocates to celebrate the act’s 10-year passage Monday.

The Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative hosted a conference call to continue fighting for the Affordable Care Act, which has allowed more than 400,000 Marylanders to obtain health insurance.

“We’re in a battle in Washington to preserve a system with an administration that’s extremely hostile to it,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), who joined nine others in the conference call. “We’re going to continue to fight to preserve the Affordable Care Act, to expand it [and] to build on it.”

Amidst the coronavirus, the act becomes a timely topic in terms of what some Americans seek in universal health care.

One of the provisions in the act sought for states to expand the program to add Medicaid. However, 37 states adopted the ACA Medicaid expansion, which helps low-income and senior residents.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), who put the legislation on the House floor 10 years ago, said Maryland serves as a model in leading in health care reform.

I want to also thank … all the members of the General Assembly who have been so forward-leaning in protecting that which was gained by the passage of the Affordable Care Act and making sure that our citizens are not hurt by efforts at federal level to undermine the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

Maryland became the first state in the nation last year when lawmakers approved an Easy Enrollment Program estimated to help at least 100,000 uninsured residents receive coverage by simply checking a box on their state tax income returns.

The Maryland Health Connection, the state’s health insurance marketplace, began a special enrollment period last week due to the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. People still without health insurance have until April 15 to sign up at marylandhealthconnection.gov/how-to-enroll.

Days before the majority Democratic legislature adjourned early last week, the House voted along party lines (96-38) to provide additional funding for the newly created Prescription Drug Affordability Board. The Senate unanimously approved the measure.

The five-member board comprised of college professors, an ophthalmologist and the state’s former health secretary has the authority to asses and recommend how to make drugs more affordable for Maryland residents. The board, which held its first meeting Jan. 13, serves as the nation’s first-ever body created to analyze a cap on drug prices to make them inexpensive.

According to the fiscal note, the board will receive $2 million annually through 2025.

An additional $250,000 will 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.

“I’m really happy it passed because we need the funding so [prescription drug board members] can do their work,” Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-District 21) of College Park, the lead sponsor to create the board last year, said after the final legislative session on March 18 in Annapolis. “Look at what we’re going through. A lot of people can’t afford their prescription drugs. People need health care, especially now.”

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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