The open enrollment period closed last month, but Marylanders still will have a chance this tax season to sign up for health insurance for 2023.
Comptroller Brooke Lierman, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and other state officials and health care advocates plan to come together Friday morning to encourage uninsured residents to check a box on their state tax return to start the process of signing up for affordable health insurance.
Maryland has run its tax-based Easy Enrollment program since 2019, when it became the first state in the country to launch such a program.
Meant to make it simpler for uninsured residents to learn about their health coverage options and sign up for insurance, the program added two check boxes to state income tax forms. One asks filers whether they have health insurance. If they don’t, the other asks whether they’d like the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange to follow up about their eligibility for low-cost or free coverage.
“The problem is a lot of people don’t know that they’re eligible for help, or even that help exists. And some people are put off by the paperwork requirements of enrolling,” said Stan Dorn, director of health policy for Unidos US and a Maryland resident who has long supported Easy Enrollment.
“The Easy Enrollment strategy is incredibly promising as a way to address this,” he added.
Since the state legislature voted to establish the Easy Enrollment program, more than 100,000 Marylanders have checked the box on their tax returns to learn more about their options, and more than 10,000 have signed up for health insurance, according to a news release about the Friday news conference from the Maryland Health Care for All! Coalition.
Of the 10,000 who signed up for health coverage through the program, about three-quarters were eligible for Medicaid, said Michele Eberle, executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. The rest purchased coverage through private commercial plans.
“That was something we didn’t know — how many would end up eligible for free health coverage through Medicaid,” Eberle said.
Eberle estimates that around 1,500 people will enroll in health coverage through the easy enrollment program this year — about the same as the number that enrolled last year.
Even more will likely sign up for coverage through the program next year, she said, after tens of thousands lose Medicaid coverage this spring when the federal government reinstates a requirement that existed before the pandemic for states to verify recipients’ eligibility.
The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange is preparing for about 80,000 Marylanders to lose Medicaid coverage, Eberle told the Maryland Senate’s Finance Committee last month.
The exchange is working closely with the state Medicaid agency to make sure that those who remain eligible for public insurance are renewed, and those who are no longer eligible are able to find coverage through the state’s private insurance marketplace, Eberle said.
Also on Friday, Van Hollen, a Democrat, plans to highlight federal legislation he will be supporting in Congress that would allow Americans to check a box on their federal tax return to get help in signing up for coverage.
Since Maryland passed its Easy Enrollment program in 2019, nine states have followed its lead, including California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
A federal Easy Enrollment program, if created, would give more information to the Maryland Health Benefits Exchange to help the agency better connect state residents with health coverage, including employer-sponsored insurance, according to information provided by Matt Slavoski, Van Hollen’s spokesman.
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The senator also introduced the Easy Enrollment legislation last year. Although the bill didn’t pass, Van Hollen isn’t discouraged about its chances in the future. In his experience, he said, it often takes time for momentum to build around a bill.
“We’re still very much in the stage where we’re going to be educating fellow members, building support, and then having something ready — a piece of legislation that you can just take off the shelf, and if there’s another legislative vehicle moving through the House and Senate, we then try to attach it to that,” Van Hollen said.
He added that since the bill eases access to existing programs, rather than creating new ones, it has a good chance of attracting bipartisan support.
In the Maryland General Assembly, Sen. Malcolm Augustine, a Prince George’s County Democrat, and Del. Lorig Charkoudian, a Montgomery County Democrat, have introduced legislation that would automatically enroll into Medicaid any food stamp recipients who are eligible for coverage but not yet enrolled.
The Maryland Office of the Comptroller also may one day be able to automatically enroll uninsured people into Medicaid who indicate on their state income tax form that they’d like to be covered under the program. But that’s likely a few years away.
First, Lierman said, the office needs to modernize the state’s tax return system.
Once that happens, she said, “I think that we’ll be in a place where we can offer more services like automatic checkoffs and other policy ideas that I know the General Assembly has.”