by NATALIE SCHWARTZ
Capital News Service
Enrollment in the Maryland Health Exchange thus far has been climbing at faster rates than in previous years, while President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress have taken their first steps to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
As of Monday, more than 465,500 Marylanders had enrolled in the Maryland Health Connection since it opened on Nov. 1, surpassing the 457,862 who had enrolled by the same date last year. The enrollment period ends on Jan. 31.
Of those 465,500, about 150,000 have enrolled in private health insurance and about 315,500 have enrolled in Medicaid. About 73,500 additional Marylanders have passively re-enrolled, meaning they will retain their same coverage if they do nothing to change their plans, according to data provided by Andrew Ratner, director of marketing and strategic initiatives at the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.
However, an executive order Trump signed on his first day in office could pave the way to gut the Affordable Care Act, signaling its repeal as one of his top priorities. The order gives federal agencies the power to eliminate or loosen some regulations created by the health care law.
This followed a Jan. 12 measure by the U.S. Senate to begin dismantling the Affordable Care Act by passing a budget resolution that would make it easier to begin rolling back portions of the law.
Health care advocates and state officials have been continuing to urge Marylanders to enroll in the exchange, touting the Affordable Care Act’s role in reducing the number of uninsured state residents by about 50 percent. Since the rollout of the health care law, the percentage of uninsured Marylanders has shrunk from 10.2 percent in 2013 to 6.6 percent in 2015, according to the U.S. Census.
If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, the state could stand to lose up to $1.2 billion of federal funding for Medicaid and up to $200 million for other related services, according to David Romans, fiscal and policy analysis deputy director for the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.
The proposed 2018 state budget includes funding for 312,000 Marylanders who are enrolled under the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion, Romans said. Ninety-five percent of funding for Medicaid is provided by the federal government, but this number could be slashed in half if the health care law is repealed.
To continue insuring the thousands of Marylanders who benefit from the Medicaid expansion, the state, which is already operating on a “lean budget,” would likely have to cut from other programs and services, Delegate Clarence Lam, D-Howard and Baltimore counties, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.
If the Affordable Care Act is repealed soon, the Maryland General Assembly may need to call a special session later in the year to address the budgetary concerns, Lam added.
“There’s no place to get billions of dollars within the state of Maryland,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of Maryland Citizen’s Health Initiative. “We need to prevent the Affordable Care Act from being repealed and we’re going to work very hard to do that.”
DeMarco has helped lead a recent health coverage enrollment initiative at a dozen faith organizations in Maryland over the inauguration weekend. He said he’s seen firsthand how the Affordable Care Act has saved the lives of the previously uninsured.
“Any program that expands healthcare to 20 million plus Americans … is a huge success,” DeMarco said. “We’re going to protect it (and) we’re going to keep it there and build on it.”
About 18 million Americans would lose health insurance the first year after repealing the Affordable Care Act, according to a non-partisan report from the Congressional Budget Office. This number could double to 32 million by 2026, the office reported.
Moreover, premiums would increase by 20 percent to 25 percent in the first year, according to the same report.
“It would be a significant step backwards to throw these people out of insurance and be concerned about how they pay their medical bills again,” Lam said. “That there are things that are afoot in Washington–maybe abstract or maybe things that we hear in the news–but at the end of the day there are real people being affected in our communities that will go without health insurance. We all pay for that.”