By GEORGIA SLATER
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — A series of “last chance” events are scheduled for this weekend to help Marylanders enroll in Affordable Care Act health care coverage for 2018 before the Dec 15. deadline.
Free events are planned at 18 locations throughout the state Dec. 8-10. At these events, trained “navigators” will be available to assist people to enroll in health coverage.
Despite the growth in ACA health care rates in Maryland in recent years, racial disparities in health coverage remain. The rates of minority groups’ participation still remain below the rates of the general population, according to the Maryland Health Care for All Coalition, an advocacy group aiming to educate Marylanders about effective and affordable ways for consumers to access health care.
“It’s a focus for us, the groups that have been underinsured for years. We’re making progress, but there is more to be done,” Andrew Ratner, chief of staff of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.
Minority enrollments are lagging compared to one year ago: African-American numbers are down 2,745, and Hispanic registration is down by 858, according to Betsy Plunkett, deputy director of marketing and web strategies at the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.
“The NAACP strongly urges Marylanders to go take advantage of these enrollment events this weekend to get health care coverage,” said Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches. “We have all fought very hard to enact and protect the ACA and health care coverage so let’s make it work for everyone.”
“The ACA is really important to us,” Stansbury added. “We need to make sure that all the ministers, churches and pastors make this a priority in their congregations….Get out and do what you can do for your family and your friends.”
According to Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, the Affordable Care Act has already proved successful in the state with over 400,000 Marylanders enrolled.
Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Mike Busch, D-Anne Arundel, a large supporter of “getting health care right in Maryland” and “protecting against rate-shock” to consumers, according to Busch’s website, spoke in favor of these events at the meeting.
“With the Affordable Care Act, the state of Maryland came down to having less than 6 percent of its population with no insurance. When you have more than 95 percent of people of the population insured it brings down everyone’s premiums,” Busch said.
It’s important for Marylanders to understand that they still have time to enroll, added Busch, and the hope is that 100,000 or more people will sign up.
Along with Busch, Michele Eberle, incoming executive director for the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, spoke in support of the initiative.
For help this weekend and in the enrollment process, Eberle advises consumers to visit MarylandHealthConnection.gov or to download the Maryland Health Connection free mobile app.
“It’s a must that you download this app, the neatest feature is that you can click, get help and find the closest-to-you broker, a navigator, a call center, and there is all sorts of free help to help you and your family find your best plan,” Eberle said.
DeMarco said that Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative hopes to propose legislation in the upcoming session to continue support for the ACA.
President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress have pushed to repeal and replace the health care law, known as “Obamacare.” One version of a tax bill making its way through Congress would repeal the law’s individual mandate.
“Our message to Washington is simple: The ACA is here to stay in Maryland….For those who are trying to undermine the ACA, despite these threats, enrollment is going up and Maryland is not scared,” DeMarco said.