Alongside members of the Maryland Health Care for All Coalition, supporters and lead sponsors of Senate Bill 632 and House Bill 709 gather at a press conference. The legislation would create a subsidy program for small businesses to offer their employees health coverage. Back row, left to right: Rick Weldon, Maryland Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives Senator Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery) Willie Flowers, President of the Maryland Conference of NAACP Branches Howard County Executive Calvin Ball Senator Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard), lead Senate sponsor Delegate Robbyn Lewis (D-Baltimore City), lead House sponsor Delegate Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City), cosponsor; Front row, left to right: Kathleen Hays, Intern, Maryland Health Care For All Coalition Emily Camizzi, Intern, Maryland Health Care For All Coalition Vincent DeMarco, President, Maryland Health Care For All Coalition (Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member

Since 1999, the Maryland Health Care for All Coalition has been on a mission to secure quality, affordable healthcare for all Marylanders. Comprising hundreds of faith, labor, business and community organizations from across the state, the organization is the largest and most diverse coalition of healthcare consumers who are working to achieve the same goal. 

Its policy victories include creating the nation’s first Prescription Drug Affordability Board and attaining more affordable health insurance for low-income young adults through the Maryland Health Connection. 

 Now, the Maryland Health Care for All Coalition is pushing for a new piece of legislation, Senate Bill 632 and House Bill 709

“One of the problems that we still see is there are small businesses that can’t afford healthcare for their employees, and many of them, if not most, are lower-income, persons-of-color and women-owned businesses,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Healthcare for All Coalition. 

In Maryland, 37% of small businesses offer health coverage to their employees compared to 95% of large employers. 

Senate Bill 632 and House Bill 709 seek to address this gap. Sponsored by Delegate Robbyn T. Lewis (D-46) and Senator Katie Fry Hester (D-9), the bills would create a pilot subsidy program for small businesses and nonprofits, including faith communities, to offer employees health insurance. 

Previously, the state ran a similar program for small employers called the Maryland Health Insurance Partnership, but when the Affordable Care Act took effect, it was discontinued. This new legislation will revive and improve upon the old program. 

It calls for the state to set aside $45 million, much of which will come from the American Rescue Plan, in subsidies and an additional $3 million in outreach over the next five years. Businesses and nonprofits with 25 employees or less would qualify for the program. 

If passed, thousands of working Marylanders could obtain health coverage. The Maryland Health Care for All Coalition hopes that the program will also particularly help Black businesses and nonprofits in their recovery from COVID-19’s long-term financial impact. 

“Even before the pandemic, businesses owned by Black and Brown people received smaller loan amounts, higher interest rates and shorter payback durations, so due to increased financing challenges, we think that this additional system to offer health coverage could be especially beneficial for Black-owned businesses and Black-led nonprofits,” said Stephanie Klapper, deputy director at Maryland Health Care for All Coalition. 

On Monday, Senate Bill 632 passed unanimously. Although it will not immediately create the subsidy program, the Senate is requiring the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange to convene a workgroup to study and make recommendations to establish a Small Business and Nonprofit Health Insurance Subsidies Program. 

After determining how the program should work, a report will be given to the governor. 

The Maryland Health Care for All Coalition is urging the House of Delegates to stand with the Senate and approve House Bill 709. 

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