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Maryland House Approves Health Insurance Access For Undocumented Immigrants

Maryland Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, a Democrat who chairs the Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee, speaks in favor of a bill to enable people to buy health insurance through the

The Maryland House has approved a measure that would enable individuals to purchase health insurance through the state's health care exchange regardless of their immigration status, pending the approval of a federal waiver. The bill, which passed with a 101-34 vote, will now move to the Senate for further consideration.

If enacted, the legislation would mandate the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange to submit a federal waiver application by July 1, 2025, to facilitate the implementation of the program. This waiver is necessary due to existing federal restrictions on undocumented immigrants accessing the marketplace. Notably, Washington state secured a similar waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in late 2022. Should Maryland receive the waiver, the program could potentially launch as early as 2026.

Maryland's health care exchange was established in 2011 to provide a platform for individuals and small businesses to purchase affordable health coverage. Through the Maryland Health Connection, residents of the state can explore health insurance plans and compare rates.

Since the inception of Maryland's health care exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid, the state has significantly reduced the number of uninsured residents by over 50%, from approximately 756,000 to around 350,000, constituting about 6% of the state's population. Of the remaining uninsured individuals, an estimated 256,000 are undocumented immigrants.

Advocates of the bill argue that allowing undocumented immigrants to access health insurance through the exchange is beneficial for all parties involved. They emphasize that these individuals work and pay taxes in the state, and by obtaining insurance, they contribute to preventive medicine, ultimately reducing costs associated with emergency room visits.

However, some critics, including Republican lawmakers, have raised concerns about the potential strain on resources and questioned the prioritization of non-citizens over U.S. citizens in accessing healthcare services. They argue that citizens often face long wait times for medical appointments and suggest that expanding coverage to undocumented immigrants could exacerbate existing challenges with healthcare access.

Proponents of the measure counter these arguments by highlighting the financial benefits of providing insurance to all residents. They point out that uninsured individuals resorting to emergency rooms for care result in higher medical costs for hospitals, ultimately impacting the entire healthcare system. Additionally, they underscore the importance of preventive care in reducing overall healthcare expenses.

As the bill progresses to the Senate for further deliberation, the debate surrounding health insurance access for undocumented immigrants continues, with stakeholders on both sides presenting contrasting viewpoints on the potential implications of the proposed legislation.

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