Health Enrollment Bill Seen as National Model

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) is flanked by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Adrianne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) early on in the hour-long bill-signing ceremony Monday. Photo by Josh Kurtz

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and the presiding officers of the Maryland General Assembly muscled their way through a mountain of legislation Monday, signing 182 bills into law in just over an hour.

The bills covered a range of issues, from education to health care to criminal justice to government reform. [For a full list of the bills they signed, click here]

One national health care advocacy group is touting one of the new laws – enabling Marylanders to request enrollment in one of the state’s health care programs when they file their state tax returns – as a model for the rest of the nation.

“We’re going to try to take it around the country,” Frederick Isasi, executive director of the national consumer health advocacy group Families USA, said in an interview. “We think it’s one of the quickest, fastest ways to increase enrollment and keep health insurance costs in check.”

Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA

Isasi was one of several health care advocates who witnessed the bill signing Monday.

The Maryland Easy Enrollment Health Insurance Program will let Marylanders inquire about applying for enrollment into health insurance plans by checking a box on their annual state income tax returns.

This process will let the state’s health care exchange determine eligibility for free or low-cost health insurance based on information sent electronically from the tax return. Those who qualify for Medicaid will be enrolled automatically, and the exchange will reach out to people who qualify for private coverage and help them sign up for an appropriate plan.

The new law, which was sponsored by Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery) and Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), passed unanimously in the Senate and by a 123-15 vote in the House.

“The Maryland Easy Enrollment Health Insurance Program will help tens of thousands of Marylanders get the health care coverage they need and also help keep premiums more affordable for all of us,” Peña-Melnyk said.

Lawmakers, advocates and Hogan called the legislation the product of bipartisanship in Annapolis.

“We are also proud to continue Maryland’s record of leadership on health care by enacting legislation to further improve access and lower costs,” Hogan said in a statement.

Monday’s bill signing was the first with Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) present as House speaker. She had attended two previous bill signing sessions this year as speaker pro tem.

The bill signing ceremony was supposed to begin at 11 a.m., and Hogan joked that Jones was pressuring him to start on time.

“There’s no more fooling around,” Hogan said. “She just told me it’s 11:01 and it’s time to get going. There’s a new sheriff in town.”

Jones noted that many of the bills being signed into law were sponsored by freshmen delegates and senators.

“It’s been a very positive session,” added Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). “It may be raining outside, but the sun is shining inside this building.”

The next bill signing ceremony has been scheduled for May 23 at 10 a.m. Hogan has until May 25 to act on legislation from this year’s General Assembly session. Any bill he doesn’t sign or veto by then would become law without his signature.

Hogan vetoed four bills before the end of the General Assembly session — the $15 an hour minimum wage, a bill allowing local school districts to set the academic calendar, oyster protection legislation, and a measure to strip the comptroller’s office of certain regulatory powers – and all were overridden by the Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate in the session’s final days.

Eight pieces of legislation that Maryland Matters identified as possible candidates for vetoes have yet to be acted upon.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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