Washington Post
August 2, 2017
Fenit Nirappil

A Maryland state panel established by lawmakers to monitor and respond to Republican attempts to overhaul the health-care system met for the first time Tuesday, hearing testimony about the effects that legislation in Congress would have locally.

The Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection Commission, co-chaired by Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery) and Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), is set to issue legislative recommendations by the end of the year. Its job is complicated by the constantly shifting prospects of the stalled federal health-care legislation.

“We know it’s chaos,” Peña-Melnyk said. “We are constantly being threatened, so we have to be vigilant, and we have to assess the impact of actual and potential federal changes.”

The leader of Maryland’s state-run health insurance marketplace told the commission that the Affordable Care Act was instrumental in cutting the state’s uninsured rate in half to about 6.6 percent, after the state exchange recovered from a disastrous launch.

But she warned that enrollment is hampered by the Trump administration’s decision to relax enforcement of the mandate to buy health insurance and the president’s threat to withhold monthly payments to insurers for covering the lowest-income customers.

“Even the uncertainty creates issues, and the actual withholding of those payments would really be quite devastating,” said Carolyn Quattrocki, executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. “The signals coming out of the administration are mixed at best.”

Quattrocki said regulators were working to find more insurers willing to sell on the exchange after several departures left consumers with only Care First, which wants to increase rates 50 percent, and Kaiser, which is not sold in 13 of Maryland’s less-populated counties.

UnitedHealth Group pulled out of most state exchanges, including Maryland’s, in 2016, while Cigna announced earlier this year that it would drop out of Maryland.

Evergreen, which began as a nonprofit and provides health insurance to about 25,000 residents, has been going through financial turmoil. The Maryland Insurance Administration last week issued an order barring Evergreen from selling or renewing insurance policies, a preliminary step for receivership.

Health care is shaping up as a major issue ahead of the 2018 elections. Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who is up for a second term, has criticized GOP attempts to repeal the federal health-care bill and called on Congress to start over and find a bipartisan way to boost insurance markets.

Several Democrats seeking to challenge Hogan are embracing calls by their party’s progressive wing for more active government involvement in health care.

Former NAACP president Ben Jealous called for the state to establish a single-payer health-care system, while state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (Montgomery) and entrepreneur Alec Ross have called for a state-run public option to compete with private plans.