Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley vowed Wednesday that by mid-December the state would fix most of the technical problems that have hindered enrollment in its online health insurance exchange and accepted responsibility for “a risky launch.”
“This was a large and complex IT project, and there are teams of people that are working on the fixes to this,” O’Malley (D) told reporters in his most extensive comments to date about the state’s rocky rollout of a key component of President Obama’s new health-care law. “This is a little more complex than going on Amazon and ordering a book.”
The governor’s comments came on a day in which there was some relatively good news about the state-run Maryland Health Connection: For the week ending Nov. 23, more Marylanders had chosen to sign up for private plans than any week since the Oct. 1 launch, and the state had seen several strong days of enrollment since then.
Still, the 3,024 people who had chosen to enroll in private plans by Nov. 23 leaves Maryland a long way from a target of signing up 150,000 people by the end of March.
And Maryland, whose Democratic leaders embraced the Affordable Care Act, trails other states that opted to run their own exchanges rather than rely on the program of the federal government, whose HealthCare.gov Web site has been plagued by problems.
In addition to those signed up for private plans, 11,493 Marylanders had sought Medicaid coverage through the state’s health exchange by Nov. 23, state officials said Wednesday.
The low numbers prompted some tough questions from Democrats and Republicans at a legislative briefing on Tuesday, during which O’Malley’s health secretary, Joshua Sharfstein, represented the administration.
“What we heard is we’re on an upward trajectory,” Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley (R-Frederick) said after the briefing. “Well, they had nowhere to go but up.”
O’Malley suggested Wednesday that enrollment would increase once the state launches a marketing campaign to direct people to its online exchange. The state has held off on the marketing to focus on making the Web site “more functional,” he said.
The governor said that problems include screens freezing up and error messages that do not indicate what action to take.
“There are problems in each piece of it, though not as many problems as there were two months ago, not as many problems as there were three weeks ago, and not as many problems as there were 48 hours ago,” O’Malley said.
He said he made the call to launch the online exchange knowing that there could be problems.
“The option we had was, look, knowing this is a risky launch, do we go ahead and go now? Do we hold up and wait? And I made the decision that we go now,” O’Malley said. “Had we not gone on October 1st, we would not have made the progress we’ve made since then.”