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Maryland lawmakers introduce replacement for Obamacare individual mandate

Washington Examiner
Kimberly Leonard
January 9, 2018

Maryland lawmakers have introduced a plan to replace Obamacare’s individual mandate, the provision gutted by Republicans in Congress last month that obligated people buy health insurance or pay a fine.

The proposal in Maryland is being described as a “down payment plan” that would give people the option to put the money they would pay in a penalty toward a health insurance plan, and also contains components that automatically enroll people in coverage.

Through the plan, states would notify uninsured taxpayers beginning in 2020 they can use the money from the penalty toward an Obamacare plan. From there, customers will be split into two different categories: Those who can receive coverage at no cost because of federal subsidies will be automatically enrolled into a plan, and those who would have to kick in more will be told they can enroll in coverage during open enrollment, which begins in November.

For this second group, the money from the fine would be put into an interest-bearing “escrow” account that will be waiting for them to use during open enrollment.

At that time, the state government would reach out to that person to let them know what plans are available to them. If they don’t enroll and a zero-cost plan becomes available, they then will be automatically enrolled in that plan. If the customer does not use the funds, then they will go into a general health insurance stabilization fund.

A fact sheet accompanying the Maryland proposal notes that 200,000 state residents qualify for exchange plans but haven’t yet signed up.

The individual mandate penalties from Obamacare will no longer apply beginning in 2019. Insurers have warned that without a replacement for the mandate more companies would leave the exchanges and the prices of premiums would increase. Opponents of the mandate said it represented government overreach and failed to attain its goal to bring in younger, healthier enrollees who would otherwise choose to go uninsured.

The senators and delegates appeared at a press conference in Annapolis Tuesday to announce their plan alongside pro-Obamacare groups like the Maryland Health Care for All! Coalition, Protect Our Care and Families USA.

“The Affordable Care Act has been a great success in Maryland and we need to protect it from President Trump and Congress,” Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said in a statement. “With this new health insurance down payment plan, our state can build on this success to stabilize our insurance market and help even more Marylanders get the care they need at a price they can afford.”

The proposal was introduced by Sen. Brian Feldman and Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk, who are co-chairs of the Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection Commission.

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