With just six days left to sign up for health care coverage through Maryland’s online health insurance marketplace, an array of federal, state and local elected officials held a virtual news conference Wednesday to urge Marylanders to take advantage.
The appeal comes as state public health officials detect a slight rise in COVID-19 cases among younger state residents — a demographic that often foregoes purchasing costly health insurance.
Maryland Health Connection, the state’s health care exchange created after passage of the federal Affordable Care Act, reopened the insurance signup period, which traditionally takes place in the fall, early in the spring, when the pandemic first hit and Marylanders began losing their jobs. The agency extended the signup period twice — and it’s finally due to expire on July 15.
“During this health crisis, more Marylanders are turning to us to get health coverage to protect themselves and their families from high medical bills and to provide health care when they need it,” said Michele Eberle, executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.
A second option, the Easy Enrollment Health Insurance Program, is available to Marylanders who are filing their income tax returns before the extended July 15 deadline for tax filing. On the state income tax form, filers are asked if they have health insurance. If not, they can agree to have the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange inform them about their likely eligibility for low-cost or free health insurance. The exchange will follow up with information about how to enroll. Roughly nine in 10 people who obtain insurance through Maryland Health Connection receive a subsidy, making the coverage affordable or free.
Marylanders can visit Maryland Health Connection, the state’s online health insurance marketplace, to see if they qualify for free or affordable health insurance coverage. As the COVID-19 outbreak began, the state launched a special open enrollment period for insurance, which ends July 15th.
“I’m encouraged that more than 40,000 individuals have signed up for coverage during the emergency open enrollment period,” said U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), one of several elected officials to participate in Wednesday’s press call. “It’s critically important that all families in our state have access to quality, affordable health care, especially during the ongoing public health crisis caused by COVID-19.”
Officials put the state’s health insurance sign-up programs in the broader context of the national debate over health care policy, as President Trump and Republicans in Congress seek to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, also referred to as Obamacare.
“The ACA continues to be a great success in Maryland and across the nation. As we continue to defend it in Washington, I am proud of Maryland’s effective implementation and the availability of health insurance for all,” said U.S. Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D).
Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), vice chair of the House Health and Government Operations, called Maryland’s enrollment programs “models to other states.”
It was not strictly a partisan call. State Sen. Christopher B. West (R-Baltimore County) lent his support to the sign-up programs.
“Instead of just complaining about the high cost of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, Maryland legislators did something about it,” he said. “We crafted a resourceful solution to the problem, and as a result, insurance premiums in Maryland today are far lower than they were three years ago.”
The entreaties to sign up for health care came as Maryland public health officials on Wednesday told a legislative panel that they are seeing a slight increase in COVID-19 cases among residents who are 35 and younger.
“The biggest distinguishing characteristics of the new cases, the fact they are shifting a little to younger people is probably one of the most noticeable trends,” said Dr. Clifford Mitchell, director of the Environmental Health Bureau at the Maryland Department of Health.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Marylanders age 20-29 represent about 15% of the state’s total, while 30- to 39-year-olds represent almost 19% of cases.
Mitchell said health officials are targeting outreach programs on COVID-19 safety protocols to younger residents.
The state reported 586 new cases and 11 more confirmed deaths from the virus on Thursday. Overall, the state has confirmed 71,447 infections and 3,160 virus-related deaths since March.
Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s), whose district includes the University of Maryland College Park campus, expressed concerns about the pending arrival of college students on campuses throughout the state — many of which have announced hybrid plans with a combination of in-person and remote instruction.
“We’re talking about having tens of thousands of students coming back to college campuses,” Rosapepe said.