Maryland: Over 18,000 residents have checked the box for healthcare coverage so far

Last year, Maryland passed a very clever new law to help expand healthcare coverage through the state's ACA exchange and ACA Medicaid expansion without requiring any additional financial subsidies:

Maryland would use state tax forms to identify uninsured residents and refer them to options for no-cost or low-cost health care under a bill moving forward in the General Assembly.

The bill, if approved, would add a question on state tax returns asking taxpayers if they have health insurance. Those who answer that they don’t have health insurance would be referred to the state's Medicaid program or the health exchange, where individuals can buy health insurance plans.

...Dorn explained to me that the way it would work is much more than that: The state tax returns would include a new line where uninsured filers would be required to check off one of two boxes:

  • Box 1: "Have the exchange determine my eligibility for free or low-cost insurance"
  • Box 2: "I prefer to remain uninsured."

When the tax form goes to the state treasury department, if they checked Box 1, their data is forwarded to the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, which now has permission to check their status. If they qualify for Medicaid, they're auto-enrolled. If they qualify for a subsidized exchange plan, the exchange will then contact them and let them know what sort of plans they're eligible for.

The estimate was that this simple awareness/outreach action could potentially add up to 50,000 uninsured Maryland residents to Medicaid, and potentially up to 70,000 to subsidized private healthcare policies via the Maryland ACA exchange.

Those numbers are aspirational, of course; it'll take a few years to ramp things up and for awareness to spread statewide. I noted in January:

For what it's worth, the Maryland ACA exchange enrolled around 159,000 people during Open Enrollment this year, so if they were to manage to get all 70,000 subsidy-eligible Marylanders to sign up via the EZ Enrollment SEP, they'd theoretically increase their exchange enrollment by a whopping 44%. I'd be surprised if they manage to add more than perhaps 10,000 or so the first year, but that'd still be huge, and it should ramp up in future years.

Well, the program launched earlier this year, and MD Health Benefit Exchange just reported that it's off to an excellent start:

More than 18,000 Uninsured Marylanders have checked the box on state tax returns to share information for health coverage

(BALTIMORE, MD) – Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has provided initial data to the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange (MHBE), the agency that runs Maryland Health Connection, showing early success of the innovative Maryland Easy Enrollment Health Insurance Program. As of the beginning of March, more than 18,000 taxpayers have checked the box on their tax return to receive further information about enrolling in health insurance coverage, far exceeding expectations and demonstrating that many Marylanders remain uninsured.

For the first time, a question at the top of this year’s state tax forms 502 and 502B asks 2020 tax filers if they want to share information, like household size and income, to determine their eligibility for free or low-cost health insurance. When taxpayers check the box, they grant permission to the Comptroller’s Office to share relevant information with Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, which then mails a letter stating whether the consumer is eligible for free or low-cost coverage and outlining the easy enrollment process.

This program allows any Marylander who checks the box on their state tax return form to be eligible for a special enrollment period, even if they do not qualify for savings. Individuals will have 35 days from the date on the letter from Maryland Health Connection to sign up at MarylandHealthConnection.gov. There is free enrollment help available in-person and on the phone. . This is a special opportunity available only to those who file by April 15 and check the box on their tax form.

Last year, nine out of 10 Marylanders who enrolled through Maryland Health Connection received savings. This special enrollment period is for private health plans. Those who qualify for Medicaid may enroll any time of year.

“This innovative but straightforward idea shows how the government can work for the greater good of Maryland taxpayers,” said Comptroller Franchot. “A simple checkmark can help someone take that first step toward affordable health coverage, a step they may not have known how to take before. Enrolling thousands of previously uninsured Marylanders benefits their personal health and reduces the state’s burden of absorbing uninsured medical expenses.”

"We are thrilled that more than 18,000 people already have taken advantage of the Maryland Easy Enrollment Health Insurance Program and are taking the first step to obtain affordable health coverage. We are hopeful that the number will climb as tax-filing season continues over the next six weeks. This program makes it easy for people to sign up for insurance. We urge Marylanders without insurance to check the box on their tax return and get started on the path to quality, affordable health coverage," said Michele Eberle, executive director of Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

“We are proud that Maryland is the first state to adopt this kind of innovative approach to using the tax- filing system to enroll people in health insurance. We serve as a model for other states. There are many people who have made the Easy Enrollment program possible. Congratulations to Maryland Health Benefit Exchange and the Comptroller’s Office, and thanks to Families USA and Orioles Hall of Famer Eddie Murray for all their great work in making this a success. We offer special thanks to the lead sponsors on the legislation, Senator Brian J. Feldman and Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk, as well as Governor Larry Hogan, who signed the measure into law. We are looking forward to getting more people in the state affordable health insurance,” said Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative President Vincent DeMarco.