The Sun’s recent editorial highlights important reforms to the state’s unemployment insurance system, which has been unable to fully meet the needs of Marylanders who lost jobs in the past year (”Tale of two benefits: Maryland’s unemployment insurance failed, while direct relief payments worked. Here’s what one can learn from the other,” Feb. 23).
There is one other change to the unemployment insurance system pending in the General Assembly that also deserves support. A provision in reform bills sponsored by Del. Lorig Charkoudian (House Bill 1002) and Sen. James Rosapepe (Senate Bill 893) would make it significantly easier for uninsured people who have become unemployed to sign up for health insurance coverage.
The measure would allow people who sign up for unemployment benefits to check a box on their forms and begin the process to enroll in health coverage through the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. People who are financially stressed after losing their jobs and benefits can take this easy step to start the process of gaining health coverage — giving them and their families some peace of mind about their health.
Maryland took a similar step by allowing people to get started on enrolling in health insurance when they file their state income tax forms, an Easy Enrollment program that has successfully helped thousands of people get coverage. Adding this as an option during the unemployment insurance process will produce similar benefits and will make Maryland a healthier state.
This measure will also improve equity, as was concluded by Attorney General Brian Frosh’s COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force in its recent report. Unemployment disparities have worsened for Black and Latino communities, as well as for people with disabilities. At the same time, these populations are experiencing COVID-19 health disparities and need access to health coverage. Connecting unemployed Marylanders to health coverage will move Maryland closer to the goal of achieving quality, affordable health care for all.
Stephanie Klapper, Baltimore
Stephanie Klapper is deputy director of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.
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