Bill Would Allow Residents to File Taxes, Sign Up for Health Insurance at Same Time

    A measure to encourage low-income Maryland residents to sign up for health insurance on their tax returns has been amended by a key committee.

    Under the amended bill, an uninsured Marylander can start the enrollment process by checking a box on their state income tax return, said Vincent DeMarco, head of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, the group backing the effort.

    The committee rejected a core component of the original proposal, a $700-a-year penalty for not having health insurance, a feature patterned after the original version of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

    The sponsors of House Bill 814 and Senate Bill 802, Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s, Anne Arundel) and Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery), stressed in the early days of the session they did not want the state to collect the penalty.

    Rather, they offered a plan by which the $700 could be combined with federal tax credits to purchase insurance coverage through the state’s health care exchange.

    While that feature of the legislation is gone, the MCHI is claiming victory nonetheless.

    “We are thrilled that Maryland will be the first state in the nation to actively use the tax system to enroll uninsured Marylanders in health care,” DeMarco said.

    “The Maryland Easy Enrollment Health 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 of us,” he said.

    DeMarco said the revised bill could still stand as a national model, if it wins approval by the General Assembly and is signed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R).

    “We’re the first state in the country where the tax system is used to sign people up for health insurance,” DeMarco said.

    On the first day of this year’s legislative session Hogan was non-committal about the MCHI’s proposal, though he did say he prefers systems that entice people to take an action over those that penalize them for not doing so.

    The Health and Government Operations Committee approved the measure unanimously Thursday. It is expected to be on the House floor Friday.

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    Bruce DePuyt
    Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.