Maryland would use state tax forms to identify uninsured residents and refer them to options for no-cost or low-cost health care under a bill moving forward in the General Assembly.
The bill, if approved, would add a question on state tax returns asking taxpayers if they have health insurance. Those who answer that they don’t have health insurance would be referred to the state's Medicaid program or the health exchange, where individuals can buy health insurance plans.
Proponents of the bill believe tens of thousands of people could gain no-cost or low-cost health insurance through the program, which is being called the “Maryland Easy Enrollment Health Program.”
“We are thrilled that Maryland will be the first state in the nation to actively use the tax system to enroll uninsured Marylanders in health care,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.
The program is expected to identify about 50,000 people eligible for Medicaid, the government health insurance program for those with low incomes, according to the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.
An additional 70,000 Marylanders could buy insurance at little to no cost through the state’s health exchange with the help of government subsidies, according to the organization.
Health advocates say that those Marylanders might be unaware that they qualify for Medicaid or for help in paying for health insurance — and that the tax return is a way to identify those individuals.
The bill had started out as levying a penalty on Marylanders without insurance, but allowing them to use that money instead toward buying health insurance. That penalty was considered as the federal government is no longer enforcing a penalty provision that was created under the Affordable Care Act.
The revised version of the bill — removing the financial penalty — sailed through the House of Delegates Health and Government Operations Committee on a bipartisan 22-0 vote this week.
Del. Nic Kipke, an Anne Arundel County Republican, said the modified bill is the better way to go.
“This might actually help people get health insurance instead of penalizing them for not having it,” said Kipke, who serves as the House minority leader and sits on the committee that considered the bill.
“When there was a federal penalty, data shows that it didn’t motivate people to sign up for insurance — they just paid the fine,” Kipke said. “I’m confident that this will result in more people signing up for insurance without penalizing people who really can’t afford it.”