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Open enrollment on Maryland health exchange readies to launch with new subsidies for young adults

Leaders from Maryland’s largest counties assembled Thursday to tout millions of dollars in new state and federal subsidies available for those buying health insurance on Maryland’s health exchange.

Open enrollment for 2022 plans on the exchange begins Nov. 1, and the local executives, plus some state lawmakers, specifically sought to draw attention to funds newly available for young adults — who go without insurance more often than any other age group.

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“A new state subsidy will make it far more affordable for young people,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, who hosted the news conference in Ellicott City along with the advocacy group Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.

“Someone 28 years old and earning $30,000 can sign up for a gold health care plan for as little as $1 a month; previously a plan could cost up to $70 a month,” Ball said.

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Maryland has been more aggressive in recent years than most states in bolstering its health exchange, including a program that helped to offset the cost of insurers’ most expensive consumers. Now officials are turning to subsidies for young Marylanders.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball speaks to the media while joined by other local county executives, from left, Harford's Barry Glassman, Anne Arundel's Steuart Pittman and Montgomery's Marc Elrich, to urge uninsured Marylanders to sign up for affordable health insurance coverage through the state exchange.
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball speaks to the media while joined by other local county executives, from left, Harford's Barry Glassman, Anne Arundel's Steuart Pittman and Montgomery's Marc Elrich, to urge uninsured Marylanders to sign up for affordable health insurance coverage through the state exchange. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media)

That $20 million provision was passed in the General Assembly session concluding earlier this year and creates a two-year pilot program offering premium assistance to people ages 18 to 34 who earn up to about $50,000, or those earning between 138% and 400% of the federal poverty level.

State Sen. Brian Feldman, the lead bill sponsor along with Del. Kenneth P. Kerr., said this age group is crucial for the health of individuals but also the health of the insurance system in the state.

“This brings down the cost to everyone because young healthy people are in the pool,” said Feldman, a Montgomery County Democrat. “If this works, this two-year pilot, I hope becomes permanent.”

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The state subsidies come on top of millions more in federal subsidies added earlier this year through the coronavirus pandemic relief legislation called the American Rescue Plan Act.

The approximately 162,000 Marylanders who signed up through the exchange are automatically eligible for all the subsidies if they sign up again next year. Another 30,000 buy individual plans directly from insurers in the state. (Most people in Maryland get their insurance through their employers.)

The ranks of insured grew by thousands in the past year during the pandemic because Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, allowed many extra months of enrollment to people who lost their jobs.

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, the only GOP leader to speak at Thursday’s news conference, said health care shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

“Folks 18-34 need help throughout Maryland,” he said. “There are people in smaller rural counties on the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland and north Harford County who do not have health care. This opens the door for that generation.”

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman speaks to the media as local leaders and politicians gathered to encourage uninsured Marylanders to sign up for affordable health insurance coverage through the state exchange.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman speaks to the media as local leaders and politicians gathered to encourage uninsured Marylanders to sign up for affordable health insurance coverage through the state exchange. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media)

Exchange officials have been working on the largest pockets of uninsured left in the state, particularly Black and Latino residents, and now young adults.

About 6% of Marylanders don’t have insurance, and the number of uninsured young adults is about three times that of most other age groups. About 40,000 people ages 18 to 34 are now eligible for the new state subsidies, out of more than 90,000 uninsured in that group.

Another 34,000 young adults who have coverage now through the exchange would also qualify if they re-enroll for 2022.

Other efforts target uninsured generally. The state launched an effort more than a year ago to automatically give people information about plans and help them enroll when they checked a box on their tax forms.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen is now seeking to launch a program nationally. The legislation, called the Easy Enrollment in Health Care Act, targets those who are eligible for coverage but still don’t sign up.

“The idea behind this bill is simple but powerful: Millions of Americans who already qualify for free or very low-cost health coverage don’t receive it because they are not enrolled in plans for which they are eligible,” the Democrat said in a statement.

“Closing this gap and getting more people enrolled in plans they already qualify for is key to providing better care to families and our communities,” said Van Hollen, who has said that he’s seeking to include the measure in the Democrats’ massive reconciliation bill to fund social programs.

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said all measures are needed in Maryland and nationally to get people covered and expects the newest subsidies to make a dent.

“If you are uninsured in Maryland, on Monday, Nov. 1, go to marylandhealthconnection.gov and you will find affordable health insurance.”

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