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MD Bill Would Ease Access to Health Coverage for Unemployed

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Maryland lawmakers hope adding a checkbox for people to ask for health-insurance information on unemployment applications will enroll more who need coverage. (Adobe Stock)
Maryland lawmakers hope adding a checkbox for people to ask for health-insurance information on unemployment applications will enroll more who need coverage. (Adobe Stock)
 By Diane Bernard, Public News Service - MD - Producer, Contact
February 24, 2021

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - With thousands of Marylanders still losing jobs in the pandemic, health-care groups are urging state lawmakers to make it easier for people to get health coverage when they apply for unemployment benefits.

House Bill 1002 would improve Maryland's struggling Unemployment Insurance system, said Vinny DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative. The bill would create a checkbox on unemployment applications for information on Maryland's health-insurance exchange.

DeMarco said losing a job often means losing health coverage, and people may not realize they're eligible for low-cost or free health care.

"It builds on the very successful Easy Enrollment program, which Maryland enacted in 2019, which connects people at tax time with the health exchange, and that's enrolled thousands of people who didn't know that they were eligible," he said. "And now we're doing the same here, we hope, with the unemployment-insurance filing."

HB 1002 still is in committee, and DeMarco said it's expected to get bipartisan support. The bill that first established the Easy Enrollment program passed with major bipartisan backing in 2019, including support from Gov. Larry Hogan.

DeMarco said making it easier to connect more folks with health coverage also is an equity issue. He noted that unemployment among people with disabilities has risen sharply during the pandemic. Also, data show the gap between white unemployment and people of color also has expanded.

"We know that African-Americans and Latinos have been much more likely to lose jobs during the pandemic, and that's been a tragedy, and many of them also lose their health insurance," he said. "We've done focus groups saying that people in those situations are just too inundated to understand how to also access the health-benefit exchange in Maryland."

HB 1002 also proposes hiring more staff for the unemployment program phone lines to help speed up application times. Meanwhile in Congress, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., plans to introduce legislation to make Maryland-style Easy Enrollment a national program.

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