Maryland House OKs bill to enable undocumented immigrants to buy health insurance on state exchange

Maryland House OKs bill to enable undocumented immigrants to buy health insurance on state exchange
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Maryland House on Friday approved a measure to allow people to get health insurance through the state’s health care exchange, regardless of their immigration status, with approval of a federal waiver.

The House voted 101-34 in favor of the bill, which now heads to the Senate, where similar legislation is being considered.

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The measure would require the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange to file a federal waiver application by July 1, 2025, to implement the program. The waiver is necessary because of federal restrictions on undocumented immigrants using the market. Washington state received such a waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in late 2022. The program in Maryland could start as early as 2026 if a waiver is granted.

The Maryland Health Care Exchange was created during the 2011 legislative session to provide people and small businesses with a marketplace to purchase affordable health care coverage. Maryland residents can purchase health insurance and compare rates through the Maryland Health Connection.

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Since Maryland created its health care exchange through the federal Affordable Care Act and expanded Medicaid, the state has reduced the number of uninsured residents by more than 50%, from about 756,000 to about 350,000, or about 6% of the state’s population, Del said. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, chair of the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

Of the state’s uninsured, about 256,000 are undocumented immigrants, Pena-Melnyk said. She pointed out that undocumented immigrants who get health insurance through the exchange work in the state, pay taxes in the state and will pay for the plans.

“It’s preventive medicine, cheaper if it’s preventive, and it helps us all. This is not free, not free, not free,” Pena-Melnyk said emphatically.

But Del. Mark Fisher, a Republican from Calvert County, claimed that Maryland residents who are U.S. citizens often face long wait times to get a doctor’s appointment, and he questioned why the state should expand health insurance coverage through the exchange. the state to people who are not. citizens.

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“The term health care equity is meaningless if you can’t get access to a doctor, absolutely nonsense, and that’s the experience we’ve had across the state, and certainly in Calvert County,” Fisher said. “I just don’t understand why people believe that if you are a citizen of the United States, you have to get in line behind people who are not citizens of the United States.”

But Pena-Melnyk said the measure would help everyone because when people without health insurance need care, they end up going to emergency rooms where medical costs are higher.

“It saves us a lot of money, because guess what? Hospitals spent somewhere between $120 million and $150 million on uncompensated care last year,” Pena-Melnyk, a Democrat from Prince George’s County, said during the debate Friday, while also noting that Maryland had the worst emergency room wait times help from the country.

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