Immigrant Healthcare Expansion Bill Zips to Governor’s Desk

For Immediate Release: Thursday, April 04, 2024

                                           Maryland Celebrates as Access to Care Act Clears the General Assembly
                                                            Immigrant Healthcare Expansion Bill Zips to Governor’s Desk

ANNAPOLIS, MD – Maryland’s top advocacy, labor, business, community service providers, and faith organizations mark a momentous Maryland milestone as the Access to Care Act moves out of the General Assembly and heads to Governor Wes Moore’s desk for a signature. The bill has been widely supported, with over 100 organizations from a wide range of sectors calling for the passage of this bill, which is the first step to expanding comprehensive healthcare in the state.

The Access to Care Act, sponsored by Delegate Bonnie Cullison and Senator Antonio Hayes, removes immigration status as an eligibility requirement for purchasing a health plan through the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange (MHBE), by requiring the state to seek federal approval of a state innovation waiver. The waiver, also known as a 1332 waiver, will establish a Qualified Resident Enrollment Program to allow qualified residents to purchase plans on the individual exchange. The bill also requires MHBE to submit a report to the General Assembly on its plan to implement the program. Currently, there are no subsidies for the program and MHBE has stated it can submit the waiver application with existing resources providing no cost to the state. This critical legislation will be the first step in ensuring that valued members of the community receive the critical and often life-saving preventative care needed.

“Maryland is poised to make history once again as our beloved state expands access for immigrant Marylanders to purchase insurance through the exchange. Uninsured Marylanders who once forwent routine checkups can soon visit a doctor as they need to. The heavy burden that hospital systems and community clinics have carried for decades will lighten, with people heading to preventative care instead of the emergency room. Health will reign in Maryland, as the Access to Care Act is the first step in quality and affordable healthcare for everyone,” said CASA’s Executive Director Gustavo Torres.

MHBE projects this coverage expansion can reduce overall individual market premiums that could result in reductions of about 2 to 4% per year. Another cost-savings that expanding access to care would provide is in the uncompensated costs incurred by the state when uninsured individuals seek costly emergency department care. In FY21, Maryland Hospitals provided over $780 million in uncompensated care, with some hospitals paying upward of 10% of their total allocated budget towards this expense. The state is covering the most expensive form of care there is: emergency care.

“We are excited to see legislation pass to allow all Maryland residents to use Maryland Health Connection to compare and purchase private health plans, pending approval from the federal government,” said Michele Eberle, executive director of Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

States such as Washington, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and even the District of Columbia have already expanded healthcare access to or established new programs for immigrant families ineligible for care through Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act. Maryland is now among the ranks of this leadership cohort with the passage and coming implementation of this bill. Many nonprofit healthcare providers have been supporting this legislation and are now celebrating its passage.

“Since our organization’s inception in 1983, La Clínica del Pueblo has played an active role in regional coalitions and community workgroups advocating for healthcare access for uninsured immigrants in Maryland and the District of Columbia. It is with great enthusiasm that we celebrate the successful passage of SB 705, the Access to Care Act,” said Suyanna Linhales Barker, DrPH, chief of programs and community services of La Clínica del Pueblo. “As a community-based healthcare organization committed to achieving immigrant health equity, we view this legislative milestone as a significant stride toward ensuring that all Maryland residents have access to top-tier primary care services. This advancement promises to improve health outcomes and reduce costs and ensures that every Maryland resident has the opportunity to lead a healthier life.”

“We applaud the passage of the Access to Care Act as a victory for health equity in our State. At Health Care for the Homeless, we see many clients who have gone for years without proper health care because they have not had access to insurance. This has enormous consequences for the health of the clients we serve and the health system at large.We believe health care is a human right and this bill is a major step to ensuring all people have access to health care,” said Joanna Diamond, director of public policy at Healthcare for the Homeless.

The passage of this legislation was done in collaboration with many partners.

“No one should have to face illness alone. Thousands of immigrants in Maryland are facing chronic and debilitating illnesses without health insurance. This is a step forward towards a more inclusive equitable healthcare system for all our immigrant brothers and sisters, regardless of immigration status,” said Reverend Kobi Little, president of the Maryland State NAACP. “We must always continue to fight for freedom and human rights together. Together we march for immigrant healthcare justice.”

“The Maryland Health Care For All! Coalition commends the General Assembly and especially lead sponsors Vice-Chair Delegate Bonnie Cullison and Senator Antonio Hayes for passing the Access To Care Act,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Health Care For All! Coalition. “All Marylanders will benefit when more people get health care coverage and we thereby further reduce uncompensated hospital care.”

“Undocumented Marylanders and their families are valuable members of our community. As healthcare workers, 1199SEIU applauds the passage of the Access to Care Act, which will allow all Marylanders the basic dignity of affording necessary medical care,” said Ricarra Jones, political director, 1199SEIU.

“My heart goes out to the families of the missing construction workers, all of whom came to Maryland to be part of thriving communities. While the passage of this legislation will not ease the grief, it will provide their families greater access to health care so they can honor their lost loved ones by living full, healthy lives. It is essential that every Marylander has good health care – for the well-being of the individuals and of our state. Being allowed to purchase health insurance through the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange will make that more possible. I am very grateful to have been part of a tremendous team of government officials, faith, community, and union leaders whose commitment to this work moves us closer to the goal of leaving no Marylander behind,” said Delegate Bonnie Cullison, sponsor of the House bill.

“We understand that accessible healthcare coverage protects all of us and fosters healthier, more productive communities. That’s why we’ve made every effort to establish an easily accessible state exchange marketplace, ensuring that every Marylander can purchase insurance. I’m proud to have sponsored this critical legislation in the Senate,” said Senator Antonio Hayes, sponsor of the Senate bill.
“As we celebrate the passage of the Access to Care Act through the General Assembly, let’s also recognize the vital role immigrant communities play in our state. We are vibrant, resilient, and hopeful people that want to live a safe and healthy life. The passage of this bill helps our state move to a position where all Marylanders have access to health insurance,” said Chair of the House Health and Government Operations Committee Joseline Peña-Melnyk.