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MD Legislative Leaders, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield Introduce Universal Health Care Coverage Bill

Revenue Neutral "Healthy Maryland Plan" Aimed at Advancing Universal Coverage Debate

ANNAPOLIS, MD (March 4, 2009) - Maryland legislative leaders and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (CareFirst) today unveiled legislation, Senate Bill 515 and House Bill 860, that would provide universal health insurance coverage for Maryland residents. The "Healthy Maryland" plan would create a new, comprehensive insurance offering for the individual market with sliding-scale subsidies for low-income individuals. Coverage would be available to every Maryland resident regardless of health status or pre-existing conditions.

As envisioned in the plan, the "Healthy Maryland" initiative would be funded through a combination of existing Maryland Health Insurance Plan revenues, member premiums, and redirection of existing health care dollars. In addition, the plan mandates that individuals obtain insurance and that employers offer coverage to their workers. Another source of funding would be the penalties paid by those who opt not to purchase individual coverage or that decline to offer insurance to employees.

"Ensuring that every Maryland resident has access to quality health care is a monumental challenge, and this plan meets that challenge with coverage that is affordable, accessible and comprehensive," said State Senator Thomas M. (Mac) Middleton, who, with Delegate Peter. A. Hammen, is a sponsor of the legislation. "Under this program, Maryland could be a national leader in ensuring its residents have meaningful health care coverage."

An estimated 780,000 Maryland residents go without insurance coverage at some point each year. Healthy Maryland would provide subsidized coverage for individuals with household incomes below 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Level ($63,600 for a family of four) who do not qualify for other government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid or Maryland's State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

"We've worked closely with CareFirst to develop a plan that is practical and that offers real hope to expand coverage dramatically," said Hammen. "There is no doubt that this is a challenging time to take up such a complex issue. But, if we want to take concrete steps toward achieving universal health coverage, we must start meaningful dialogue on the topic now."

A key component of the Healthy Maryland Plan would be the creation of a single Healthy Maryland health insurance offering that could be offered by all commercial insurers. Every participating insurer would be required to offer individuals a plan with the same benefits at the same age-adjusted premium. First-dollar coverage (meaning no deductibles must first be met) would be available for primary and preventive health services and, depending on funding availability, incentives could be offered to members who take steps to improve and maintain healthy behaviors.

"We are confident that this plan will meet the needs of Maryland's uninsured," said Chet Burrell, CareFirst President and CEO. "With affordable premiums, incentives to encourage healthy behaviors, and an individual and employer mandate for coverage, the pieces are in place for a long-term solution to the challenge of providing quality, affordable health care for all. This plan is a solid starting point to make Maryland a national leader in providing health care coverage for all of its residents."

Preliminary estimates put the total costs for the Healthy Maryland Plan at about $1.6 billion annually. Premiums paid by Healthy Maryland enrollees would cover about $1.2 billion of the program's costs. Reallocating funding related to uncompensated hospital care - which would be expected to drop dramatically as a result of the program - along with penalties paid by non-participating individuals and employers would account for the bulk of the remaining funding.

In its 72nd year of service, CareFirst, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, is a not-for-profit health care company which, through its affiliates and subsidiaries, offers a comprehensive portfolio of health insurance products and administrative services to nearly 3.4 million individuals and groups in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Northern Virginia. Through its CareFirst Commitment initiative and other public mission activities, CareFirst supports efforts to increase the accessibility, affordability, safety and quality of health care throughout its market areas.

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