More than 18,000 Maryland residents without health insurance have checked a new box on their annual tax forms to request information about coverage.
This is the first year of the program, passed last year by the Maryland General Assembly, which uses taxes to hook up the uninsured with the state’s health exchange created under the federal Affordable Care Act.
The effort aims to reach the 6% of Marylanders who still do not have insurance and may not know what’s available on the online marketplace for people who do not have workplace insurance.
Checking the box allows the state comptroller to send information about the resident to the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, which operates the marketplace.
Tax season is still underway and the numbers are the initial batch of people seeking the information about insurance policies and possible subsidies available to consumers to pay for coverage.
The 18,000 people seeking information exceeded exchange official’s expectations weeks before the end of the tax filing deadline April 15.
“We are thrilled that more than 18,000 people already have taken advantage of the Maryland Easy Enrollment Health Insurance Program and are taking the first step to obtain affordable health coverage," Michele Eberle, executive director of Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, said in a statement.
“We are hopeful that the number will climb as tax-filing season continues over the next six weeks,” she said “This program makes it easy for people to sign up for insurance. We urge Marylanders without insurance to check the box on their tax return and get started on the path to quality, affordable health coverage.”
Those who check the box can sign up for insurance under a special enrollment period even if they don’t qualify for subsidies. They will have 35 days after they receive a letter from the exchange to sign up online at marylandhealthconnection.gov.
The state officials continue to seek new customers for the exchange despite continuing efforts by Republicans on the federal level to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. States led by Texas, who won a lower court ruling that the law is unconstitutional, will defend the position at the Supreme Court later this year.
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A ruling against the law could affects millions of Americans. Hundreds of thousands of Maryland residents get their insurance through the exchange, including people who buy private insurance and those who qualify for Medicaid, the government health program for low-income residents.
It would also affect those who got extra benefits from the law but buy insurance through their work.
There are still Maryland residents who never enrolled in any coverage, or do not have it now. Officials have struggled to reach these residents, and lawmakers created the program to continue getting out information on how to sign up.
Many people who have not enrolled have cited costs. The premiums on the exchange, with just two insurers offering plans, had been rising in recent year until a lawmakers passed a separate program to help carriers cover their most expensive consumers. The premiums have declined in the past two years. About 90% of people also qualify for subsidies.
“This innovative but straightforward idea shows how the government can work for the greater good of Maryland taxpayers,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot, Maryland comptroller, who provided the data to the exchange. “A simple checkmark can help someone take that first step toward affordable health coverage, a step they may not have known how to take before. Enrolling thousands of previously uninsured Marylanders benefits their personal health and reduces the state’s burden of absorbing uninsured medical expenses.”
Maryland is the first state to adopt such a program, which was pushed by health care advocates including Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.
"We are looking forward to getting more people in the state affordable health insurance,” DeMarco said.