Hogan signs bill to make birth-control cheaper

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The Washington Post

By: Ovetta Wiggins May 10, 2016

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed 196 bills into law on Tuesday, including one that Planned Parenthood and other advocates say will provide “the most comprehensive insurance coverage for contraception in the country.”

Many states have passed laws addressing some aspects of the bill Maryland lawmakers approved, Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Heather Ford said. But no other state has a law that includes all the provisions in Maryland’s “Contraceptive Equity Act,” which will take effect in January, 2018 and prohibits insurers from charging co-payments for contraceptive drugs, procedures and devices approved by the federal government. .

Among other things, the bill eliminates the co-payment for vasectomies. It makes Maryland the first state in the country to require insurance coverage for over-the-counter contraceptive medications, such as the morning-after pill.

“Family planning is essential for women’s rights and cost is a factor in family planning,” said Del. Ariana Kelly (D-Montgomery), the lead sponsor of the bill in the House. “This legislation is going to help eliminate barriers and reduce costs for women and for men.”

The law applies to insurance plans regulated by the state of Maryland — covering about a third of state residents, advocates said — and expands the coverage already provided through Medicaid, the federal government’s insurance program for the poor.

It drew bipartisan support in the General Assembly, including from Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County), the minority whip and her party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D). Szeliga’s Democratic opponent, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), testified in favor of the bill during the 2016 legislative session and attended Tuesday’s news conference.

The bills Hogan signed Tuesday also included a measure that will launch a state-run retirement savings program for private businesses that don’t offer such plans. The Maryland Small Business Retirement Savings Board will develop guidelines for how the program will work, including how much employees will be required to pay, how workers can opt out, and it will be administered.

Charly Carter, executive director of Maryland Working Families, called the retirement-savings bill “a huge step in the right direction to provide economic stability to families.” It was backed by both Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).

Proponents of the Maryland bill say about 1 million people in the state are over 60, and many will not be prepared for retirement. By 2030, advocates say, seniors will make up a quarter of the state’s population. A handful of other states, including Illinois and California, are in varying stages of implementing state-run retirement plans for private-sector employees.

Maryland has seen repeated legislative attempts to design a payroll-deduction retirement-savings account.

State Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George’s), who sponsored this year’s bill, said the legislation failed to move in the past because it penalized businesses that did not participate in the savings program. The penalties were not included in this year’s version of the legislation.

Peters and Del. William Frick (D-Montgomery), the House sponsor, also added a provision that would eliminate the $300 corporate filing fee required of small businesses that do participate in the program. Last year, Hogan pushed to eliminate the filing fee, but the bill never moved out of committee.

“We decided to use the carrot and not the stick to get employers to participate,” Frick said, also noting that the businesses would not have to pay fees to administer the program.

Frick said he was not certain how many companies will participate, but estimated that the program could be running by 2018.

Hogan also signed legislation to give Northrup Grumman a $37.5 million tax credit over five years and to reduce the fees charged for birth and death certificates.

The governor, who campaigned on a platform of shrinking the tax burden in Maryland, hailed the fee reductions as part of that mission. He also took a jab at Miller and Busch over their inability to agree on a tax cut plan during the recent session. Negotiations faltered over how much of a tax cut to approve for higher earners.

“I know President Miller wants to provide across-the-board income tax cuts and provide help for small businesses, and I know that Speaker Busch wants to give tax relief to struggling low-income families,” Hogan said. “And, well, I agree with both of them. So I say, ‘Next year, guys, let’s get them all done.’ ”



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