Maryland Leads With Health Care Initiatives

By Renee Foose, Special to the Afro

On the final day of the 2019 Maryland General Assembly, history was made with the passage of two bills to establish the nation’s first Prescription Drug Affordability Board and creating easy access and enrollment for health insurance.  

The newly created board will have the authority to establish maximum costs to be paid by state and local governments for certain high-dollar medications. The measure will help these governments reduce expenditures on drugs for their employees, freeing up public funds for other needs, such as education. The board will eventually make recommendations for the maximum amount individuals will pay for expensive medications.

The second bill, also a first of its kind nationally, will allow Marylanders to begin the process of enrolling in health insurance by checking a box on their annual state income tax returns. The bill is expected to lead to tens of thousands of Marylanders signing up for health insurance, which will expand the pool of people who are insured and bring down premium costs for other enrollees, said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.

“Maryland has taken bold steps to improve health care in the state by passing these two landmark bills,” said DeMarco in a prepared statement. “These bills will help bring down soaring drug costs in the state and will give people a convenient way to sign up for health insurance by simply checking a box on their tax returns. We urge Gov. Hogan to stand with Marylanders and sign these two important bills.”

The Prescription Drug Affordability Board legislation was sponsored by Sen. Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) and Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s). The Maryland Easy Enrollment Health Insurance Program bill was sponsored by Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery) and Del. Peña-Melnyk.

The legislation has received widespread support from county executives throughout Maryland and the Legislative Black Caucus. “We are proud to work with our great lead sponsors, Senators Klausmeier and Feldman and Delegate Pena-Melnyk,” DeMarco said. “They had the vision for how to improve our healthcare system and worked hard throughout the legislative session to pass bills that will generate enormous benefits for years to come to both local and state governments, as well as average Marylanders.”

The easy enrollment insurance program will allow tax filers to indicate on their Maryland tax form that they would like to enroll in a health insurance plan. That single step will let the state’s health care exchange determine eligibility for free or low-cost health insurance, based on information in the tax return. Those who qualify for Medicaid will be enrolled automatically.

“We appreciate the opportunity for affordable drug and health care costs,” said Gerald Stansbury, president of Maryland NAACP.  “This is a start in the right direction for people across Maryland who really need help with medical expenses.”

“Maryland has taken a major step forward in bringing down the costs of prescription drug costs,” DeMarco said. “This Board will act as a watchdog for the public. It will carefully review drug costs and establish fair and affordable costs for state and local government. It’s a major victory for the people of this state.”