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Maryland Senate committee approves emergency health care exchange bill

An emergency bill to offer retroactive health coverage to some Marylanders through a taxpayer-funded plan is headed for the floor of the state senate.

A Maryland Senate committee on Tuesday voted in favor of the emergency bill put forward by Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration to offer that retroactive coverage to some Marylanders through a state-backed plan. The emergency legislation would allow residents who tried but failed to enroll through the state's troubled health care exchange coverage through the Maryland Health Insurance Plan, or MHIP, a state plan for high-risk consumers.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 9-to-1 to send an amended Senate Bill 134 to the Senate floor for debate. It was not clear Wednesday what amendments the committee attached to the bill.

The state reached a deal late Monday with four private insurers offering coverage through the exchange to allow eligible Marylanders to sign up until Jan. 21 for coverage retroactive to Jan. 1. But at a hearing Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown asked lawmakers to pass the legislation which would allow MHIP to provide Marylanders an option through March 31.

The vote in the Senate Finance Committee included favorable votes by two Republicans, including Sens. Allan Kittleman, R-Carroll, and David Brinkley, R-Carroll.

Sen. Barry Glassman, R-Harford, was the lone 'no' vote in the committee. Sen. John Astle, D-Annapolis, voted for the proposal.

On Wednesday, Sen. Thomas "Mac" Middleton said on the Senate floor that the Finance Committee, which he chairs, will continue to hold hearings on the health care exchange roll-out. The committee will review an audit of the exchange at its next hearing, which is expected to take place next week.

"At the end of the day, whether you agree or disagree with the Affordable Care Act, the fact is it's the law of the land," said Middleton, D-Charles. "We have to provide some measure that can get these folks insurance."

The House Health and Government Operations Committee is expected to vote on the legislation, which is filed as House Bill 119, by next week.

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