COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland Health Benefits Exchange (MHBE) held a forum with state and community leaders to discuss the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and ways to strengthen Maryland Health Connection ahead of the 2020 enrollment period on June 13.
MHBE, a public corporation which operates intending to make health coverage more affordable for all Marylanders, administers Maryland Health Connection, the state’s official health insurance marketplace. Maryland Health Connection allows residents to shop for and enroll in health insurance as well as determines eligibility for special programs such as Medicaid.
This was MHBE’s fourth of six regional forums and discussion centered on accomplishments and setbacks of the ACA and health insurance within the state, especially as it relates to Prince George’s County.
“The fact that so many people in our diverse community now have access to health insurance through these various programs of the ACA means that we are on track to move the needle in the right direction,” said George Askew, deputy chief administrative officer for the Prince George’s County Department of Health, Human Services and Education. “Our goal is to promote, enhance and preserve health, quality of life, quality of education and the wellbeing of all Prince Georgians.”
The ACA is one of the county’s “most comprehensive health care laws,” Askew said, and from its inception in 2010 to now, millions of people have received health insurance. It allows people to have more access to preventative care, which is critical.
“For all of our lives, and probably our parents lives, the uninsured rate was in Maryland was double digits, sometimes 18 or 17%, always double digits,” said MHBE Chief of Staff Andrew Ratner. “In the last few years, since this has been the law of the land it has dropped to 6.1% in Maryland, the lowest it’s ever been, in single digits. That didn’t happen by coincidence.”
At this point, Maryland is eighth best in the country when it comes to the number of people who enroll in health insurance each year, Ratner said.
In 2019, the amount of Marylanders who enrolled increased by 2.2%, mainly propelled by reinsurance, which helped to lower consumer costs. Of those who enrolled this year, 30% were young adults, 6% were African American and 2% were Hispanic.
The open enrollment period this year for Maryland Health Connection begins on Nov. 1, and despite improvements, there are still challenges and goals MHBE wants to improve on going into its seventh enrollment period, Ratner said.
In the beginning, Maryland Health Connection had five insurers available to the public but now only has two, CareFirst and Kaiser Permanente, Ratner said. However, a more extensive range of insurers would be allowed more choice for consumers.
Additionally, immigration status prevents people from enrolling because of people either being ineligible or being afraid of giving out personal information. Finally, there is uncertainty in the future of the ACA because of the attempts to repeal it by the federal government.
Most of the uninsured remain in the central part of the state where 23% of them live in Prince George’s County, and 19% live in Montgomery County. The main goal of MHBE going forward is to reduce the amount of uninsured through outreach efforts and legislation that was recently passed in the Maryland General Assembly.
According to Shari Curtis, program director of Prince George’s Health Connection, outreach is a significant aspect of increasing enrollment in the county. This plan includes comprehensive outreach and enrollment services in seven locations throughout the county including Hyattsville, Landover, Temple Hills and Riverdale Park.
“When we first implemented this program, we decided that our mission could not be just to get people covered. That the reason to do this was to get people into primary care and to try to help improve health outcomes,” Curtis said.
However, the county faces its fair share of local challenges. According to Curtis, 50,000 people in the county are ineligible to enroll through Maryland Health Connection because of their immigration status. Other residents remain unaware of the opportunity to enroll in health insurance through the program.
“There are limited resources to be able to penetrate the markets that really need to get the information about the opportunity to be covered for penetrating the market year-round to build awareness,” Curtis said.
Many laws have been put into place following this year’s legislative session that aim to get more people insured, explained MHBE Director of Policy and Plan Management John-Pierre Cardenas.
One of them is the Maryland Easy Enrollment Program. In partnership with the office of the comptroller, this program will use the tax filing system to maximize enrollment. People will be asked when filing their taxes if they are covered, and if not, they have the option to transfer information from the comptroller to MHBE to learn more about their options.
Another is the Special Enrollment Period For Pregnancy where women will be eligible for a 90-day special enrollment period throughout their pregnancy. The Small Business Tax Credit Subsidy allows small businesses to receive financial assistance throughout the year to provide health insurance to their employees.
“All of these bills as they work together if they are linked in the right way and if they are implemented in the right way, and if we bring our community members and community partners into the fold, we could really make a transformative period for Maryland’s health system,” Cardenas said.