Maryland lawmakers are expected to quickly approve emergency legislation sponsored by the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley that would provide retroactive health insurance to residents who tried to sign up for coverage through the state’s new exchange, encountered problems and were left uninsured.
Senate and House committees are scheduled to hold hearings on the bill Tuesday afternoon, and leaders in both chambers said they expected the legislation to quickly pass, possibly as soon as next week.
State officials have said that they expect anywhere from a few hundred to 5,000 people to sign up for the insurance. Enrollees would pay a premium, which is determined by income but is often slightly higher than market rates. The short-term fix is expected to cost the state $5 million to $10 million, depending on how many enroll and how much medical care they need.
The legislation, as introduced, would expand enrollment in the Maryland Health Insurance Plan, a state-run program that covers high-risk individuals, to include those who can provide evidence that they “attempted to obtain insurance through the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange” and were “unsuccessful in enrolling in coverage.”
People could opt to have the insurance retroactive to Jan. 1, and enrollment would close March 31. As soon as an individual enrolled in a coverage plan through the exchange, their temporary insurance through the state program would be terminated.
Residents would not qualify for the insurance if they were eligible for coverage through Medicare, a Medicaid waiver program, a state children’s health program or an employer-sponsored group health insurance plan that offers comparable benefits.
Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), chairman of the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction in the Senate, said he expects the bill to “move out of here like a jet plane.”
While the larger problems with the exchange deserve a public airing, Middleton said, the hearing on the emergency legislation isn’t the proper forum for that.
“For all the faults of the system, people need the bill,” he said. “It’s a good solution, and the sooner we can get it passed the better.”
Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley (R-Frederick) agreed: “Our concern is that the Maryland citizens who have been harmed by the malpractice of the state are taken care of.”
But pushback is expected, especially from legislators who are running for statewide office and see this as a way to remind voters of the slew of problems that plagued the exchange’s Web site. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), who is running for governor, has overseen the implementation of federal health-care reform in Maryland.
Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (R-Talbot), who is running for lieutenant governor, said in a statement Thursday that the “ill-conceived emergency legislation merely shuffles people from the failing state-run Obamacare exchange into another state-run insurance program for a limited amount of time.” She said it is unclear what sort of evidence someone would have to provide to receive the state insurance and exactly how much the stopgap measure would cost.
“Trying to fix bureaucratic problems with more bureaucracy just creates more confusion and makes it more difficult for consumers,” Haddaway-Riccio said. “I am very concerned that people will fall through the cracks and wind up without access to health care.”
In a statement, Brown’s leading Democratic rival for governor, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, called the legislation an unfortunate but necessary step.
“The legislature should quickly pass Governor O’Malley’s emergency legislation to provide health insurance to those who were unable to sign up,” Gansler said. “At the same time, Lt. Governor Brown, who was responsible for the exchange, owes the legislature answers as to why the rollout was botched.”
The O’Malley administration says it has continued to work to correct the exchange’s problems. O’Malley (D) told reporters Thursday that the exchange’s Web site “is now functional for most people.”
“I think it’s time for us to ratchet up the marketing,” O’Malley said, suggesting that with more advertising, the number of people signing up for insurance could increase significantly by the end of March.