After Rocky Rollout, Maryland Looks to Abandon its Health Exchan - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

After Rocky Rollout, Maryland Looks to Abandon its Health Exchange

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ANNAPOLIS, Md.- Monday marks the enrollment deadline for health insurance plans under Obamacare. Some states chose to go their own route, rather than through the federal website, healthcare.gov.

Maryland is one of those 14 states. Some of them, like California and Connecticut, are doing well. But in Maryland, the state exchange has been anything but smooth sailing, and the state is now looking to abandon ship.

More than $200 million later, it is looking more and more likely Maryland will change course, and possibly adopt another state's system. This all comes amid a federal audit, following countless issues state leaders are eager to forget.

"Right on day one, on October 1st, the website crashed," noted Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD).

It wasn't the debut the state was hoping for. Not after three-and-a-half years of planning, supported by more than $200 million of federal funding.

"We wanted, certainly, to roll out an exchange that the nation would look at and say, we want to adopt the Maryland model," Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown told WBOC. "But that didn't happen."

But the warning signs came long before that embarrassing first day. Word of missed deadlines, followed by a December 2012 report, noting numerous concerns. Then, little more than a month before opening to the public, the site crashed right in the middle of a live demonstration.

Two weeks later, more warnings. Yet with a week to go, the site was given the "green light" by top aides to Gov. Martin O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

"The federal exchange provided coverage, or provided access to coverage in over 30 states, and cost about $600 million," Rep. Harris remarked. "The Maryland exchange, only provided it to people in Maryland, and cost over $200 million. So, actually, it looked like it was money that probably wasn't well spent."

That is why Rep. Harris called on the federal government to investigate.

"I think we owe it to the taxpayer to figure out what went wrong here," he said.

They are answers insurance agent Colleen Richardson is also looking for.

"It's a huge waste of taxpayer dollars," Richardson said. "There were a lot of infrastructures already out there. But they decided to reinvent the wheel, and they didn't do it right."

Richardson has experienced the issues firsthand.

"We've had instances where quotes have come out completely wrong," she explained. "We've found there's no way to correct any errors. The system crashing. They system making up answers. It's just, every step of the way."

Lt. Gov. Brown was charged with heading the exchange, from a legislative and policy standpoint. He acknowledges there were bumps in the road, but assures the state responded appropriately.

"We reorganized the leadership on the exchange, we re-focused our vendors, some of whom never, they didn't stay on the job," he said. "We got rid of them, quite frankly. And we launched a staff surge, with literally, several hundred more Marylanders on the job, rolling up their sleeves every day, a lot of manual work around, but to ensure that we could enroll as many Marylanders as possible."

As for the federal audit, Lt. Gov. Brown said, "I think there will be no mystery, in any review that is conducted, that the big shortcoming was that we selected the wrong contractor."

Moving forward, Brown told WBOC it is unlikely the state will stay with the Maryland exchange.

"We're looking at other states. Kentucky and Connecticut. We're looking at the federal exchange."

As for that $200 million investment, Brown maintains it was not wasted money.

"I think it's important to understand that the federal government funded all of the exchanges throughout the country," he noted. "There certainly was an understanding that some states would perform better than others. And, as a result, states that are on their federal exchange would be able to look at other states. Or, that states that rolled out their own exchange, like Maryland, might be able to look to other states that have done it better."

As of Friday, Maryland had surpassed its sign-up goal, enrolling more than 272,000 people. More than 200,000 of those sign-ups were for Medicaid, while less than 50,000 enrolled in private health plans.

You have until midnight on March 31st to enroll, unless you can demonstrate you tried to do so by today, otherwise, the next open enrollment is in November.

The official vote on how to proceed with the Maryland exchange is set for Tuesday. All indications are that the state will move to Connecticut's exchange.

In response, Rep. Harris said, "Two years and $200 million later, Maryland is back to square one—and will now have to spend tens of millions more... The board has no choice but to vote yes, however, before even more taxpayer dollars are wasted on the dysfunctional exchange."

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