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With Obama’s federal mandate disappearing, Md. Democrats push ‘down payment’ plan

Washington Post
January 9, 2018
Josh Hicks

Two of Maryland’s Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled their answer to the federal rollback of Obamacare: a program that would charge a fee to residents who do not buy medical insurance and use the money as a “down payment” to enroll them in coverage from the state’s health-care exchange.

Sen. Brian J. Feldman (Montgomery) and Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (Prince George’s) said they will propose the legislation this year in response to congressional Republicans effectively eliminating the federal mandate to buy insurance or pay a penalty, a move many experts say could destabilize the individual marketplace and drive up premiums.

The federal mandate requiring people to have insurance will end in 2019.

“This is a hugely important proposal,” Feldman said. “We’re presenting folks with the opportunity to make a rational economic decision.”

The measure, which is the first of its kind in the nation, is backed by at least five other Democratic lawmakers, the Maryland NAACP, Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen and the Maryland Health Care for All Coalition, which helped draft the plan.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles) said his panel will take up the legislation next week. “This is going to set a new high for Maryland,” he said. “We have to make sure we make every attempt to make health care affordable.”

The other lawmakers who support the plan are Senate Budget and Taxation Vice Chair Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), who is running for governor; Senate Deputy Majority Whip James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s); House Deputy Majority Whip Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery) and Del. Robbyn Lewis (D-Baltimore City).

Proponents of the plan said they’re hopeful that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) will support it, noting he was one of 10 Republican governors who signed a letter to Congress last year opposing GOP plans to eliminate the federal insurance mandate.

“This is what working for the people of Maryland looks like, particularly when there are threats from the federal government to our health and welfare,” Madaleno said.

Hogan said during a news conference on Tuesday that he will keep an open mind. But he expressed reluctance to support any proposal that penalizes residents for not purchasing insurance.

“I’m in favor of providing incentives rather than punishment or penalties,” he said. “If the legislature has some good ideas about what the state can do to make up for problems where Washington has failed or made mistakes that are going to hurt people in Maryland, we’re all ears.”