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Tuesday is deadline to sign up for insurance

With President Donald Trump and the Republican congressional leadership having vowed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, the future of the health care law is uncertain. Despite this, Maryland health officials are letting those who don't have health insurance know that, whatever the future holds, it's still worth signing up on the state's health insurance exchange. The deadline to enroll, is Tuesday, Jan. 31.

"The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, and it will continue to be implemented in Maryland," said Andrew Ratner, director of marketing and outreach for the Maryland Health Connection, Maryland's online insurance marketplace setup by the Affordable Care Act. People not insured through an employer can shop for plans, see if they qualify for Medicaid or tax subsidies for purchasing insurance and enroll by visiting www.marylandhealthconnection.gov or by calling 855-642-8572.

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Despite reports that Trump has issued an order canceling federal advertising for the final days of open enrollment, Ratner said people in Maryland have been enrolling at an increasing rate as the deadline approaches.

"We had 7,500 incoming calls to our call center this past Monday, compared to 2,100 the previous Monday," he said. "The new Enroll MHC mobile app for full enrollment has been downloaded more than 70,000 times from Apple iOS and Google, triple our original estimate for this open enrollment season. We anticipate a busy final few days."

Carroll County has had the largest enrollment growth of any Maryland county, according to Ratner.

"As of Jan. 23, the last data available, Carroll had 3,693 enrollments in private health insurance plans through Maryland Health Connection, up 6 percent from one year ago on same date, when it was 3,490," he said. "Since Nov. 1, 315,460 have also enrolled or re-enrolled in Medicaid as of Jan. 23 through MarylandHealthConnection.gov, up from 301,862 on the same date a year ago."

The uninsured rate in Carroll County, which is lower than the 7.7 percent of Maryland as a whole, has dropped from about 7 percent in 2013, when the Maryland Health Exchange opened in Maryland, to around 4 percent in 2015, according to Ratner. An estimated 8,500 people in Carroll who were eligible for purchasing either private insurance plans or who would qualify for Medicaid remained uninsured heading into open enrollment for 2017 on Nov. 1.

Individuals earning less than $47,520 may be eligible for a tax credit for purchasing a private insurance plan through the Maryland Health Connection, according to the website, while a family of four may be eligible for a tax credit if making up to $97,200 in annual income.

An individual earning up to $16,394, or a family of four earning up to $51,273, may be eligible for state Medicaid coverage.

It is Medicaid coverage that could be jeopardized in 2018 if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. A repeal could cost Maryland $2 billion in federal Medicaid dollars that is used to cover 260,000 people, according to The Baltimore Sun.

A repeal could also cost Maryland hospitals an estimated $2.3 billion dollars — since the 1970s, Maryland has had a unique agreement with the federal government in which the state receives more money than usual from Medicare in exchange for keeping health care costs down. Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has written a letter to congressional Republicans asking that this relationship be preserved during any overhaul of the Affordable Care Act and Medicare.

Also unclear is the status of tax penalties that would be assessed in 2018 for anyone who did not have insurance coverage during 2017. According to the Maryland Health Connection website, families that go uninsured in 2017 would be on the hook for either 2.5 percent of their gross household income, or $695 per adult, and $347.50 per child, whichever is greater.

President Trump's senior adviser Kellyanne Conway has suggested in interviews that the new administration may choose not to enforce the tax penalties, which make up the enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate that Americans maintain health insurance coverage.

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