Groups Representing Hospitals and Doctors Back Health Insurance Bill

    The Maryland Hospital Association and the Maryland State Medical Society, known as MedChi, have signed on a high-profile bill that backers hope will further reduce the number of uninsured persons in the state.

    Senate Bill 802, sponsored by Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery), and House Bill 814, sponsored by Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel), would impose a $700 mandate on persons without health insurance, similar to the Obamacare mandate that was eliminated by the 2017 changes to the federal tax code.

    Backers, including the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, insist they don’t want people to pay a penalty for failing to purchase health insurance. Rather, they want people to use those funds to purchase insurance via the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

    “We’re incentivizing people to use their own money to purchase health insurance for them and their families,” said Feldman. “We particularly want to incentivize young healthy people to be part of the insurance pool. Because when they’re not in the insurance pool, we’re insuring an older, sicker population, which drives premiums up for everybody else.”

    Maryland has been steadily reducing the number of uninsured, by stabilizing the individual market, obtaining a federal waiver and getting Medicaid-eligible persons who haven’t signed up for benefits to do so.

    Vincent DeMarco, head of the health initiative, said the presence of groups representing doctors and hospitals provides new momentum for this legislation.

    Stan Dorn, director of the National Center for Coverage Innovation at FamiliesUSA, called the mandate bill “an important national model.”

    If the system is adopted, persons without insurance could check a box on their state tax returns indicating they would like to have Maryland’s health exchange to see if they are eligible for free or low-cost insurance, Dorn said. Or they could opt to remain uncovered and pay the $700 penalty.

    “We think a lot of people are going to check that first box,” he said. “And when they do, many folks are going to find out they’re eligible for Medicaid [or] they’re eligible for highly subsidized coverage thanks for federal premium tax credits.

    “Then you have a choice. You can pay your $700 penalty… or you can avoid that penalty by signing up for coverage right then and there.”

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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.