Fact check: Anthony Brown says ‘I took action’ to fix Maryland’s health exchange


“But nobody was more frustrated than me, and that’s why I took the action that I did. I reorganized the leadership at the exchange. The executive director left. We refocused the vendors, fired those who didn’t perform as promised, including IBM.”

–Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), at a debate between Maryland Democratic candidates for Governor on May 7

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) put Lt. Gov Anthony G. Brown (D) in charge of implementing health-care reform in Maryland – a rather amorphous task without a publicly known list of responsibilities. Brown, now running for governor himself, has said that it was his job to create the “legislative framework” for reform, helping to draft legislation and gather votes to allow the state to build its own health insurance Web site where residents could shop for plans.

Responsibility for actually building that Web site was delegated to the leaders of the exchange and its staff, Brown has said. Once the legislative framework was in place, Brown’s role largely became one of attending press conferences and receiving updates from exchange leaders – although he has said that he never received reports from an independent auditor that foreshadowed potential problems ahead.

The exchange crashed on opening day, Oct. 1, and limped through the first open enrollment period, which ended on March 31. Maryland is now in the process of spending tens of millions of dollars to fix its faulty Web site before the next enrollment period opens on Nov. 15.

So when the crisis hit, did Brown spring into action and single-handedly force changes at the exchange? That’s what his comments at the first Democratic gubernatorial debate ahead of the June 24 primary imply, but we have yet to see his fingerprints on any major decisions or changes at the exchange.

Those decisions and changes have largely happened behind closed doors, with the public clued-in only after things are nearly a done deal. Publicly, O’Malley has been leading the charge to fix the exchange, often showing up to news conferences with his sleeves rolled up. The governor took sole responsibility for the decision to go live with the site, despite its known problems, and he told his top technology official to drop everything and make fixing the exchange her highest priority.

And when to comes to answering questions from frustrated lawmakers, Maryland Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene Joshua M. Sharfstein has been on the front lines. Sharfstein, who is chairman of the exchange’s board of trustees, has testified for hours before lawmakers and has taken responsibility for not fully realizing the instability of the exchange until too late. Sharfstein and the board are ultimately responsible for making major decisions, although the governor’s office obviously has great influence.

When the exchange’s first executive director Rebecca Pearce resigned on Dec. 6, reportedly under pressure, the board convened to determine what to do next. Brown was not at that closed-door meeting, according to board documents. On Feb. 23, the board gathered and voted to fire the prime contractor hired to build the exchange, Noridian Healthcare Solutions. Brown did not attend that closed-door meeting held via a phone conference on a Sunday evening, according to board documents. The next day, Sharfstein told lawmakers that the decision to fire Noridian was recommended by Isabel FitzGerald, Maryland’s secretary of information technology whom O’Malley put in charge.

Two individuals who are close to Brown said that although the candidate repeatedly said “I,” he actually meant “we,” referring to the O’Malley administration as a whole. Those individuals declined to have their names published. Brown campaign spokesman Jared Smith said in a statement: “”Lt. Governor Brown was involved at the highest level on every strategic decision that was made to sign up over 300,000 Marylanders for health care.” Brown’s chief of staff and spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.

The Washington Post has repeatedly asked Brown’s staff to provide information and documentation that could illuminate his role in the exchange, both before and after its launch. They have declined.

Oh, and IBM hasn’t really been fired, although the state has decided not to continue to use its services in the future. IBM sells the software that Maryland used to build its Web site – and O’Malley and Brown have not hesitated to publicly slam the well-known company in recent weeks, rather than going after lesser-known Noridian.  After Noridian was fired and another contractor was put in charge, IBM stuck around and will continue to do so until the new exchange is complete.

“As of today,” Clint Roswell, an IBM spokesman, said Monday, “IBM still has people and a presence at the exchange.”

 

 

Read more fact checks on the Maryland Democratic candidates for governor: 

Doug Gansler: “It’s curious that [Brown] says he’s fought for years because every time that a repeal-the-death-penalty bill came up while he was a delegate in Annapolis, other delegates signed up to sponsor the bill and the lieutenant governor was nowhere to be found.”

Heather Mizeur: “I’ve expanded health insurance to 50,000 more children in our state.”

Anthony Brown: “We can’t afford to give a small number of the largest corporations in Maryland [Gansler's] $1.6 billion tax giveaway.”

Doug Gansler: “The actual number that we know that was able to sign up through the [health insurance exchange] Web site was … was four people.

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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