December 18 represents a crucial deadline for Marylanders. In order to obtain coverage through the Maryland Health Connection that begins on January 1, individuals and families need to enroll by midnight on Thursday. It’s important that Marylanders return to the site and update their information to make sure that they are getting the best deal for themselves and their families. It is particularly important for those who are already covered through the Maryland Health Connection and received tax credits this year to help them afford premiums – they must re-enroll in order to remain eligible for these cost-saving credits. Browsing plans and applying for coverage is easy to do, and there are numerous resources available to help Marylanders find the plans that best meet their needs and to determine eligibility for coverage under expanded Medicaid and for tax credits that make premiums more affordable.
It was just a little over a year ago that Marylanders without access to affordable health coverage through work, school, or their parents were often forced to choose between paying for insurance and keeping food on the table. Those who went without insurance risked illness or injury that would bring crippling out-of-pocket expenses and burden taxpayers who footed the bill for uninsured emergency room visits.
Today, as a result of the health reform legislation Congress passed in 2010, those without insurance can visit www.MarylandHealthConnection.Gov and find a range of plans that are affordable and provide quality coverage. Many are eligible for tax credits that help reduce the cost of premiums, and approximately 80% of current enrollees are receiving these subsidies. Since November, Marylanders have been able to log on to the site and browse plans anonymously without having to enter any personal information, and, as of Tuesday, over 105,000 Marylanders have successfully enrolled in both qualified health plans and Medicaid.
One of those Marylanders who had been challenged with trying to obtain health insurance and went without it for an extended period of time is Rev. Phyllicia Hatton of Fort Washington. She successfully enrolled at an enrollment event last month and says it was one of the best decisions she’s made and is now thrilled to have affordable health coverage. Her story is one of thousands of hope restored and access gained as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
For those who prefer not to go online to find coverage, consumers can call (855) 642-8572 or visit one of the regional offices around the state to meet with trained Navigators who are ready to help consumers identify the best options and complete the enrollment process. I visited the Capitol Region Health Connector Entity in Silver Spring, which serves those living in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, on November 21 and met some of the outstanding staff and volunteers there.
Alma Luna, who is in her second-year as a certified Navigator, showed me how easy it is for consumers to get information and apply for coverage. During the tour she led, I received a phone call from none other than U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who was calling to update me on the progress of health care open enrollment nationwide. I handed the phone to Alma so Secretary Burwell could thank her personally for the outstanding work she and other Navigators have been doing to help connect Marylanders with affordable, quality care.
The ability to access a range of affordable plans through the Maryland Health Connection and the other state and federal insurance marketplaces is not the only benefit consumers are experiencing as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
Because of that law, which I worked to pass in 2010, insurance companies can no longer deny Marylanders coverage due to pre-existing conditions or charge women higher rates than men for the same coverage. Young people under age 26 can now be covered under their parents’ plans, and seniors on Medicare are able to access a range of preventive tests and screenings without co-pays. The Medicare Part D prescription drug “donut hole” is closing, and the growth of health care spending in our country has slowed for the third year in a row. The benefits of the Affordable Care Act are having a positive impact on people throughout Maryland and across the country.
I encourage everyone to visit our state’s insurance marketplace – online at www.MarylandHealthConnection.Gov, by phone at (855) 642-8572, or in person with a Navigator – before Thursday’s deadline to make sure they have explored all of their options for affordable, quality health coverage for 2015. Doing so will enable Maryland families to save money, lead healthier lives, and gain the peace of mind that comes with being protected by insurance.