Maryland pushes forward with Obamacare despite uncertain future

Maryland lawmakers and health officials announce College Enrollment Week, a push to get so-called young invincibles insured. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun video)

Maryland lawmakers and health officials vowed Monday to fight plans by President-elect Donald Trump to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and said they are moving ahead with enrolling people in health plans.

Sen. Ben Cardin, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and Maryland Health Secretary Van Mitchell were at the University of Maryland, Baltimore on Monday to announce College Enrollment Week, a push to get younger people insured. But talk quickly turned to keeping expansion of health coverage to as many Americans as possible.


"The big elephant in the room... is the whole idea of the Affordable Care Act and its future," Cummings said. "We really don't want to see it taken apart."

On the campaign trail, Trump called Obamacare a disaster, and he promised to repeal it and replace it.


Since the election, he has said he would keep two of its key provisions: allowing young people to stay on their parents' health plans until age 26, and requiring insurance companies to continue providing coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Congressional Republicans voted repeatedly throughout the administration of President Barack Obama to repeal the law. Obama has vetoed their attempts.

In January, Republicans will control the White House and both chambers of Congress. Maryland officials say they plan to resist major changes in the law but would be open to tweaks.

Critics say plans sold on public exchanges are too expensive, and some insurers have dropped out because, they say, it's too costly to cover people under the law.

Cummings and Rep. John Sarbanes said it won't be easy to keep covering pre-existing conditions and allowing young adults to stay on their parents coverage without considering other parts of the law.

"The president-elect has left an opening for us to have a discussion, and hopefully help him see that repealing this thing is a lot more complicated than he thinks," Sarbanes said.

Mitchell pointed out that Maryland has been ahead of the nation in expanding health care coverage, including creating programs that covered all children and a bare-bones plan that covered some adults. He planned to visit lawmakers in Washington on Tuesday to urge them to consider different strategies.

"Maryland has been a leader for a long time, and that is not going to change," Mitchell said.

Open enrollment through Maryland Health Connection, the online marketplace on which people can buy insurance, began Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 31.

Nearly 50,000 Marylanders have enrolled so far — 8,000 in private coverage and 39,000 in Medicaid. Another 116,000 remain passively re-enrolled, meaning they will automatically be re-enrolled if they do nothing to change their plans.

Young people are key to the ACA succeeding because the insurance pool needs a balance of both healthy and sick people to keep costs affordable. Many insurance companies have said far more sick people than anticipated signed up for plans.

Young people can be hard to reach because they often don't think they can afford insurance or don't think they need it. Many don't know the various insurance options available to them.


State health officials plan enrollment events at more than 20 colleges and universities this week in hopes of better informing students about coverage.

"We want to make sure they know their options," said Jonathan Kromm, acting executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.


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