Maryland Approves Stand-Alone Vision Plans in State Health Exchange

ANNAPOLIS, Md.—The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange Act of 2012, which has been approved by that state’s lawmakers and is expected to be signed by the Governor in May, includes a provision that allows for the participation of stand-alone vision plans.

The bill states that the exchange can offer certified vision plans by carriers as stand-alone vision plans or vision plans sold in conjunction with or as an endorsement to qualified health plans. The bill also establishes the framework for the Small Business Health Options Program Exchange as a separate insurance market within the exchange for small employers that also may allow qualified employers to designate qualified vision plans.

Julian Roberts, executive director of the National Association of Vision Care Plans (NAVCP), told VMail, “Not just for stand-alone vision plans but for vision plans in general, we’re thrilled to hear that in cooperation with the local optometric association the legislators heard us, took time to understand the issue, and moved forward with ensuring that consumers would have expanded access to vision care. The language in the legislation is clear and ensures that those individuals that are used to working with expanded networks and various plan options will continue to have access to that in Maryland. We see it not just as a win for health care plans, but we see it as a win for consumers in Maryland.”

As the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act gradually approaches full implementation in 2014, every state will be required to establish insurance exchanges where companies and individuals can purchase health insurance that covers 10 Essential Health Benefits, pediatric vision care among them. However, various factions in the field of optometry differ on whether vision care should be provided via stand-alone vision insurance plans or as part of all-encompassing qualified health plans. See earlier VM coverage: “Debate Intensifies Over Stand-Alone Vision Plans’ Role in Health Care Reform” and “Feds Propose Health Care Reform’s Essential Health Benefits Cover Routine Eye Exams and Corrective Lenses."

While optometric associations in other states, for example California and Hawaii, have passed resolutions in support of including stand-alone vision plans in state exchanges, and while the American Optometric Association and the insurance commissioner of the state of Washington have publicly opposed the inclusion of stand-alone vision plans (see VM’s “AOA, Insurance Commissioner Send Letters Opposing Stand-Alone Vision Plans”), Maryland is the first state to pass this legislation.