ANNAPOLIS -- The General Assembly passed a bill last night aimed at paying for the health care of some of Maryland's more than half-million uninsured citizens, a move supporters hailed as the first step toward a major overhaul of the state's health-care system.
The Senate voted 41-0 in favor of a bill to allow insurers to offer a low-cost health insurance policy to small businesses, one that doesn't include many of the 29 mandated benefits that state law currently requires be offered by insurers.
Estimating that "tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands" of those uninsured people will be eligible to buy the policy, Delegate Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, the sponsor of the bill, hailed the process that led to last night's action.
"The partnership that has been made on this bill between the Senate and the House ensures that we will take the next step" on health-care reform. "And that's the best news about the whole process."
The bill would save costs by cutting back sharply on the number of hospital days, outpatient physician visits and other benefits accorded to subscribers of standard health insurance policies.
It would require coverage for obstetric, prenatal and newborn child care, and 10 hospital days and 10 outpatient days a year, some of which could be used for preventive services and some of which could be used for treating acute mental health conditions.
Only companies with 25 or fewer employees would be eligible to offer the policy, and only if they had offered no insurance to their employees for the previous two years.
Under the House version of the bill, no one could be covered under the limited benefits policy for more than three years. But the Senate, concerned about leaving individuals without any coverage after three years, provided for a two-year extension if the General Assembly fails to come up with a transition policy before three years are out.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas P. O'Reilly, D-Prince George's, argued against last-minute amendments offered by Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore Co.
Late last night, the House voted to accept the Senate's version of the bill.