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Maryland lawmakers bring home some victories for health care | READER COMMENTARY

Lawyers Mall and the Maryland State House on April 7, 2021. The General Assembly wraps up its 90-day legislative session on Monday, April 12.
Lawyers Mall and the Maryland State House on April 7, 2021. The General Assembly wraps up its 90-day legislative session on Monday, April 12. (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun)

Before wrapping up the legislative session this month, the Maryland General Assembly took major steps to expand and strengthen health care in the state. As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to test our health care system, lawmakers passed three important measures that will expand access to care, make care more affordable and help undo stubborn disparities in how health care is delivered (”Maryland General Assembly bill tracker: A look at key legislation,” April 8).

A key focus this year in Annapolis was on racial equity and a newly enacted measure will help get more health care services into areas that lack ready access now. The bill will establish Health Equity Resource Communities in underserved areas of Maryland. A dedicated funding source ensures these areas will see more health care services. Over time, this will help improve care and outcomes in those areas.

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A second measure creates new state subsidies for young adults to purchase health insurance. It has been a challenge for Maryland and other states to get members of this demographic to sign up for insurance. These subsidies — coupled with newly increased federal subsidies — will bring the cost of insurance premiums down significantly for many young adults.

We expect that more young adults will now be able to afford insurance, giving them peace of mind and better access to care. But it also helps all of us. With more young, relatively healthy people insured, premium costs for other people go down.

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Finally, the legislature continued its track record of innovation by passing a bill that will make it easier for people who are unemployed to enroll in affordable health insurance. When the bill is fully implemented, people who lose jobs and apply for unemployment insurance will have the option of simply checking a box on a state form indicating they want to get started on obtaining health insurance. The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange will follow up to let those applicants know about their options for free or affordable insurance.

This is a smart and humane way to help people who lose their jobs and their benefits. Looking ahead, people in similar straits will have an easier path to obtaining insurance. This approach builds on Maryland’s successful first-in-the-nation Easy Enrollment law that connects people to health insurance when they file their state taxes. That program has been highly successful and the new unemployment insurance component promises to similarly help people.

We congratulate the sponsors and supporters of these bills and applaud the leadership of House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson who are both strong supporters of strengthening the health care system. And we urge Gov. Larry Hogan to stand with us and sign these bills into law.

Vincent DeMarco, Baltimore

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The writer is president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.

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