Senate passes health bill
The Maryland Senate voted Wednesday to pass a bill that would qualify more Marylanders for government health care and pay for a new health insurance marketplace, both part of advancing the rollout of federal health reform.

The House of Delegates approved an identical bill Monday, clearing the way for the legislation to make its way to Gov. Martin O'Malley for his signature.

Initiatives in the bill spell out changes in the way poor or uninsured residents and small businesses would access health care once the federal law becomes effective next year.

Among its proposals are:

•Adding children ages 6 through 18 and adults younger than 65 with household incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level to those eligible for Medicaid, the joint state-federal program that provides health care to the poor.

•Dedicating an existing 2 percent tax on health insurance premiums, paid by health insurers and for-profit HMOs, to pay for operation of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. The exchange would open by Jan. 1 as a marketplace for individuals and small businesses to shop for health insurance.

•Planning the transition for those now covered under the Maryland Health Insurance Plan, which covers many with pre-existing conditions who are denied health insurance coverage. The plan is being canceled and its enrollees sent to the exchange for health coverage.

•Establishing guidelines to determine how much small businesses would contribute to employees' health care, if they choose to do so, but also ensuring that no employers would be required to pay for employees' health insurance.

•Outlining requirements for what types of plans and what levels of coverage insurance carriers would be required to offer in the insurance exchange.

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