U.S. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Tuesday emphasized his support for legislation that aims to address disparities in health care coverage by making it easier for the uninsured to enroll in a qualified plan.

The Easy Enrollment in Health Care Act is based on a Maryland law that was enacted last year.

U.S. Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., is soon expected to introduce the bill in the House of Representatives.

As of right now the legislation does not have any Republican co-sponsors, but it does have the support of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank, Van Hollen said in response to a question from MarylandReporter.com at the virtual news conference.

“Under our bill, Americans would be able to just check a box on their federal income tax returns that would connect them with available health care programs in their state. And by checking that box the IRS would be authorized to share the data they already have on file with the individual state health exchange marketplace,” Van Hollen explained.

“A menu of options would then be sent to the individual in a formal letter at which point that person could either choose to opt-in to a specific program or remain uninsured if they choose,” he added.

If the individual wants to select a health care plan, they would have 60 days in which to make that decision, Van Hollen said.

Moreover, if the individual does not choose a plan but is nevertheless eligible for free coverage, they would be automatically paired with an appropriate plan, Van Hollen said.

Health care advocates joined the senator in touting the legislation.

Michelle Eberle, Executive Director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, emphasized that Van Hollen’s bill is designed to increase health care access to members of underserved communities-an ambitious goal that was achieved by its Maryland counterpart.

“Twenty-four percent of those that got health insurance were from our black community. Twenty percent were from our Hispanic community. Forty-three percent were between the ages of 18 and 34…This federal bill will just allow us to further build on the success that we have had.”

Stan Dorn, Director of the National Center for Coverage Innovation at Families USA, noted that many Americans are simply unaware of the fact that they might be eligible for either free or reduced-price health insurance.

“Today the expectation is that everybody will find out on their own about the programs that exist-and figure out what they qualify for-and fill out a form and send in all the paperwork. And for some of us that work. But for many of us that does not work, especially for people who are having a tough time and economic stresses in their lives.”

Anne Shoup, communications director at Protect Our Care, echoed similar sentiments.

“Simplifying the process to get people coverage is vital…This bill would help to address the racial inequities in our system. The enrollment gap disproportionately harms families of color.”

Shoup credited the Affordable Care Act for the maintenance of quality health coverage for many underserved families during the pandemic and said Van Hollen’s bill is a logical extension of that effort.

“Why not make it easier for them? It is time to close the enrollment gap.”

This article originally was published on MarylandReporter.com on Tuesday, October 19, 2021.

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