Md. House Moves Toward Making Health Insurance Available to Uninsured

By BRIAN WITTE
|  Sunday, Mar 28, 2010  |  Updated 12:45 PM EDT
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Md. House Moves Toward Making Health Insurance Available to Uninsured

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The Maryland House of Delegates voted Saturday for a preliminary measure that would let Maryland participate in a temporary national pool to make health insurance available to the uninsured.

The bill allows the Maryland Health Insurance Plan to administer the national pool program for the state, as part of the overhaul of health care signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23. The pool is designed to make health insurance available to uninsured people before the overall market reforms take effect in 2014.

"You have to have an agency that meets the criteria, and this would cause MHIP, which basically does this now, to be able to have the flexibility to be able to offer policies that would meet the criteria of federal law," said Delegate Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard.

Pendergrass said the measure is needed to enable Maryland to collect a portion of about $5 billion that will be available from the federal government for states.

But the legislation ran into opposition from House Republicans. Delegate Anthony O'Donnell, the House Republican leader, pushed for an amendment to create an option for people to buy a private plan.

"If you vote for this amendment, you're voting for consumer choice," O'Donnell said. "If you vote against this amendment, you're saying it's OK for the federal government to force our citizens to buy a product -- which is unprecedented in the history of this nation."

The amendment failed on a 43-96 vote in the Democratic-controlled House.

Lawmakers also passed a bill on a 119-21 vote to require mediation between borrowers facing foreclosure and their mortgage lenders.

The bill requires an application for loan modification to be sent to all homeowners 45 days before a foreclosure action is filed. It must include information on programs and counseling help. Homeowners also would not give up any rights to challenge the foreclosure when they seek mediation.

Lenders would be required to certify that they have completed a loan modification analysis before putting a property up for sale. The measure, which is a priority of Gov. Martin O'Malley's, also would require those filing a foreclosure action to pay a $300 fee to help pay for mediations.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate, was put together after a work group that included homeowner advocates, counselors, lenders, foreclosure attorneys, local government representatives and judicial representatives.

In 2009, there were more than 43,000 foreclosures in Maryland, and foreclosures are expected to remain high for the next several years.

On separate legislation, the House voted 113-26 to change the child support guidelines used by judges to create payments. The Senate already has passed a bill for changes, but there are some differences that will have to be worked out between the two bills.

For example, the House would implement the changes in October 2011, instead of October of this year.

The House measure also would give judges a scale for payments based on combined income between two parents of up to $15,000. Current law recommends a scale for up to $10,000. The Senate measure would raise the scale for up to $30,000 in combined income.

Current law now requires a parent who wants to modify child support payments to have a 25 percent change in his or her economic circumstances. The House proposal would still require a change in circumstances, but it would not quantify how much.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriation Committee worked late into Friday night on changes to Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget. The House isn't backing a gradual shift in teacher pension costs supported by the Senate that would begin in fiscal year 2012. The House also has cut a fund to fight pollution in the Chesapeake Bay from $20 million to $15 million, compared to the Senate's $10 million cut to the fund.

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