Expanding Health Coverage For Maryland Families
Health care has been a top priority for Heather throughout her professional career. She believes health care is a right, not a privilege and as a member of the General Assembly she has passed important legislation in the effort to guarantee that right for every Marylander.
By passing and helping to implement innovative solutions, Heather has led Maryland in expanding coverage for tens of thousands of women, children, and young adults. Some of these reforms have become national models—and have been implemented by other states and the federal government. Others have saved the state millions of dollars while earning federal innovation funding as a reward for cost-savings. Heather’s health care record demonstrates what can happen when elected officials work together to deliver real results for Maryland families.
Extending Family Coverage
In 2007, Heather sponsored and passed the Family Coverage Expansion Act, allowing young adults to stay on their family’s insurance plans until age 25. She also worked with the Maryland Congressional delegation to include this coverage in the new federal health reform law. Because not all children are fortunate enough to have families to support them, Heather sponsored and passed additional legislation in 2009 to expand young adult coverage to former foster care children.
Putting Kids First
In 2008, Heather sponsored and passed the first-in-the-nation Kids First Act, putting Maryland on the road to universal coverage for children by targeting the 100,000 minors who were eligible for but not enrolled in public coverage. 50,000 of these children have received coverage since the passage of this law, and the innovative Kids First Act helped deliver nearly $120 million in federal bonus funding for Maryland.
Expanding Women's Health Services
In 2011, Heather sponsored and passed the Family Planning Works Act to expand Medicaid family planning services to more low-income women. This expansion will cover nearly 35,000 women. It saves the state millions in publicly funded pregnancy costs and significantly reduces the number of women seeking abortions.
Following passage of the legislation, Heather and her co-sponsor—the head of Maryland’s Tea Party Caucus—penned an op-ed in the Washington Post about working together across the aisle at the same time Congress nearly shutdown the federal government over family planning.
Maryland Health Care Exchange
When it became clear that our health care exchange was badly broken, Heather quickly spoke with experts, advocates and affected Marylanders to find out what was wrong and how it could be fixed. She solicited input and held conversations with people close to the problem at every level: federal Medicaid staff, state employees, non-profit health care advocates, and private sector insurance carriers.
After gathering all the facts, Heather released a set of practical options for fixing our exchange and worked with her colleagues in the General Assembly to put them into action. Since then, several of these have been adopted:
- A General Assembly oversight panel working to provide a full, thorough, and transparent accounting of the remaining issues to be fixed and the time frame it will take to accomplish a fully operational Maryland Health Connection (MHC) site.
- An agreement with insurance carriers to provide a retroactive coverage “grace period” for the month of January for residents who were unable to enroll in the MHC through no fault of their own.
While the state has fared much better with Medicaid enrollment than the private insurance exchange, there is still more progress to be made. The state should adopt new flexibility options granted to the state for enhanced Medicaid enrollment proceedings. In May of 2013, the federal government issued guidance to the states allowing for a series of streamlined Medicaid enrollment options. Maryland has not yet adopted these options that would help thousands of middle class families and we should do it without delay. This past session, Heather introduced legislation, the Medicaid Streamlined Eligibility Act of 2014, to improve our Medicaid enrollment outreach with the following strategies:
- Using SNAP (food stamp) eligibility determinations for automatic enrollment in Medicaid.
- Enrolling parents into Medicaid based on the eligibility and enrollment of their children in the program.
- Implementing 12-month continuous eligibility for parents and children (rather than requiring periodic re-determinations based on changes in family size or income).
The next governor must now focus on covering the 350,000 Marylanders who still find themselves without access to basic health care services. Heather will settle for nothing less than truly universal health coverage throughout Maryland.