February 22, 2018

Maryland lawmakers are considering their own version of the Affordable Care Act.

A long hospital stay without insurance could bankrupt some people. Others are faced with the choice of paying for medicine or bills. So on the table at the State House is legislation that creates an individual mandate to help more people afford health insurance.

Heath insurance is Barbara Gruber’s biggest expense. She has pre-existing conditions, and she has had open-heart surgery and broken bones. She is among hundreds of thousands of people who benefited from the Affordable Care Act, but the congressional tax overhaul signed by President Donald Trump got rid of individual mandates and reduced subsidies, resulting in skyrocketing premiums.

“We will call this the Trump effect on Maryland premiums. It’s a serious problem,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of Health Care For All.

A coalition of legislators, health care advocates, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and clergy are backing bills to stabilize the individual insurance market. One bill that’s getting the most attention would create an individual mandate. Residents without insurance would face a $700 fine or use that money for a down payment to purchase insurance.

“To me, it’s like checking all the boxes. It has got a bit of a penalty, but it has really got more of an incentive to get people back into the insurance pool,” said Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery County.

Bill supporters believe that with federal subsidies still available, people could buy insurance for about the same cost as the fine.

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said people are worried about the federal health care changes.

“They are scared that they’ll be denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions, which, by the way, we all have them. They are things like migraines, depression, diabetes. Our residents are terrified,” Wen said.

Gruber testified in favor of the legislation.

“This mandate creates a group rate for all of us so we can afford health insurance, so I can get the medicine I need,” Gruber said.

Advocates are still waiting to hear from Gov. Larry Hogan, who has expressed reservations about an individual mandate, calling it a tax.

Last modified: February 22, 2018