ANNAPOLIS -- Proponents of a bill intended to address the needs of some of the more than 500,000 uninsured Marylanders took up their case in a long-awaited hearing before a Senate committee yesterday.
The bill would allow insurance companies to offer to some employers and individuals a health insurance plan that excludes many of the more than two dozen benefits that current state law requires insurers to offer.
The goal is to allow for a policy attractive to small employers who cannot afford the standard policies with all the mandated benefits.
"The tightrope we're walking here is the dilemma of offering a reduced-benefits package to get more people to be covered," said Delegate Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, the chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee and the bill's sponsor. "At the same time, we don't want to lower the standard of care."
Mr. Taylor's testimony marked the first time in more than eight years that the chairman of either the House Economic Matters Committee or the Senate Finance Committee had crossed the street to testify before the other group.
But the senators let Mr. Taylor know they have serious concerns about his bill, which would apply only to companies with 25 or fewer employees, and only if the employees have had no insurance in the previous 12 months.
Sen. Thomas P. O'Reilly, D-Prince George's, the chairman of the Finance Committee, said the bill's prohibition on carrying the "basic benefits policy" for more than three years could leave a large group of policyholders without any coverage three years down the road.
Mr. Taylor replied that the three-year sunset provision was an attempt to put pressure on the General Assembly in the next two years to study and put into effect some of the health-care reforms recommended by the Governor's Commission on Health Care Policy and Financing,known for its chairman, Eugene Feinblatt.
Sen. Larry Young, D-Baltimore, said he wanted stronger language in the bill to ensure that the legislature would adopt some of the Feinblatt Commission recommendations. They are aimed at making insurance more affordable for small companies by spreading the risks of coverage over larger numbers of policyholders.
Bruce P. Martin, a gubernatorial aide, told the committee that the basic benefits bill "in essence is the first step on the road to implementing the Feinblatt" reforms.
Mr. O'Reilly said his committee would not vote on the bill for a few days, leaving time for lobbyists to recommend amendments to thecommittee.