Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday signed a bill allowing retroactive health care benefits for state residents who tried and failed to register on the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange before the Dec. 31, 2013, deadline.
The bill also provides retroactive benefits for residents eligible for the Maryland Health Insurance Plan, a program for medically uninsurable individuals not eligible for other coverage.
The measure was introduced Jan. 9 and passed on Jan. 29. Before signing the bill, O’Malley said it could help as many as 1,400 people.
“The reason we do this is because if it affects just one family, it is worth the effort,” O’Malley said.
Previously, the Maryland Health Progress Act of 2013 closed enrollment in MHIP on Dec. 31, 2013, as enrollees would be eligible for health insurance through the individual market or exchanges. Technical problems enrolling have changed that.
“Bridge-eligible individuals,” those who qualify for retroactive coverage under the new law and their dependents, are those who prove they tried but failed to obtain insurance through the exchanges, a legislative analysis said.
It does not include those eligible for coverage under Medicare, Medicaid, the Maryland Children’s Health Program or those with an employer sponsored group health insurance plan with comparable benefits, according to the analysis.
Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Dist 17 of Gaithersburg) said the measure was a good idea.
“It’s a question of fairness,” he said. “These are people who in good faith tried to sign up. We should try to help them out until the website is running smoothly.”
Montgomery County Republican Central Committee Chairman Michael Higgs said the new law was “flawed legislation.”
“My problem with this bill is it’s open-ended. Nobody has any idea how many people this is going to affect and how much money it will cost taxpayers. It is essentially a blank check,” he said.
The legislative analysis noted that the costs can’t be calculated.
“The exact [cost] cannot be reliably quantified and will depend on the number of people who qualify as bridge-eligible individuals, the number of those individuals who choose to enroll in MHIP, the plan selected and the total health care expenditures incurred during enrollment,” it read. “Funds are anticipated to come from the MHIP fund balance. Sufficient funds are available for this purpose, and no additional State funds should be required.”
Sarah Tincher of Capital News Service contributed to this story.