Maryland health care advocates are drawing up a list of priorities for the upcoming General Assembly session that they hope will move the state closer to their goal of ensuring all residents have health insurance.
The attorneys have a press conference scheduled for Tuesday in Baltimore to highlight their agenda. They hope that whatever happens next session will help reduce the state’s uninsured population, which currently stands at about 6%.
Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said the top priorities for 2023 are:
- Fully funded by the State’s Prescription Drug Affordability Board. The council, created by legislation in 2019, was set up to help state and local governments reduce their prescription drug costs, and lawmakers could ultimately work to expand its reach so savings are available to all residents. Governor Larry Hogan (R) vetoed a funding bill for the new agency in 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic has also slowed the council’s progress. But now the council meets regularly and advocates hope to increase its budget so it can be fully operational.
- Health care subsidies for young adults. The Legislature passed a subsidy law in 2021 that provided $20 million a year for two years to help low-income adults ages 18 to 34 get health insurance. The lawmakers who sponsored the original legislation, Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery) and Del. Ken Kerr (D-Frederick) will try to lobby for these grants to be expanded and extended into 2023.
- Inform small employers about health care coverage. Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard) and Del. Robbyn Lewis (D-Baltimore City) will sponsor legislation to allocate $5 million annually to the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange to help small businesses enroll their employees in health insurance.
- Expand health care to undocumented immigrants residing in the state. Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Howard), one of the bill’s sponsors, said people deserve to be insured regardless of their immigration status. This legislation would allow undocumented immigrants to purchase coverage from the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.
- Automatically register Marylanders who receive SNAP benefits in Medicaid.
Of the. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery), who is sponsoring legislation to organize automatic enrollment for those receiving SNAP assistance, said the measure would make state government more efficient.
“I’m madly excited about the bill,” she said in an interview. “I’m very excited. This will help more people access the service.
Gene Ransom, CEO of MedChi, the Maryland Medical Society, said his organization supports closing the gap between uninsured Marylanders to zero and said he thinks many bills that the coalition of defenders proposes would bring the state closer to this goal.
According to Ransom, the priorities “will improve public health in Maryland and improve more complicated and expensive treatments in the future because people don’t have health insurance and don’t get preventative care.”
Ransom is expected to join DeMarco and other defenders at the press conference Tuesday, which will be held at the Episcopal Diocese of Baltimore. Also speaking: Rev. Dr. Sandra Conner, President, Baptist Ministers’ Night Conference of Baltimore & Vicinity; Willie Flowers, president, NAACP of Maryland; Ricarra Jones, Policy Director, 1199SEIU MD/DC; Cathryn Paul, Director of Public Policy, CASA; and Nicole Stallings, executive vice president, Maryland Hospital Association.
DeMarco, who has worked on public health care campaigns in the state for decades, said he was excited about the priorities.
“This broad program will help achieve our goal of ensuring all Marylanders have access to affordable insurance coverage and excellent health care,” he said in a statement. “This will help everyone in Maryland by reducing the costs we all pay to cover unpaid hospital care.”
Debates on health policy in Annapolis will take place with a new governor – Democrat Wes Moore – after eight years in office of a Republican, Larry Hogan. And the new president of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), has been a key advocate for expanding access to health care in the state.
Some progressive activists are hoping the time has come to debate a “Medicare for All,” a single-payer health care plan in Annapolis.
“I think there will be a lot of talk in Maryland about health care” in 2023, Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery), who plans to introduce single-payer legislation, said this week. “We really have the opportunity to do something big and ambitious about health care in Maryland, and hopefully we get as far as single-payer health care.”
Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.
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