Maryland set to replace troubled health exchange with Connecticut’s system


Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley holds up a phone number Friday for people to call to get help enrolling in health insurance. (Brian Witte/AP)

Maryland officials are set to replace the state’s online health-insurance exchange with technology from Connecticut’s insurance marketplace, according to two people familiar with the decision, an acknowledgment that a system that has cost at least $125.5 million is broken beyond repair.

The board of the Maryland exchange plans to vote on the change Tuesday, the day after the end of the first enrollment period for the state’s residents under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Marylanders will be able to use the exchange even as it is being overhauled. The first enrollment period opened Oct. 1 and closes Monday for insurance coverage that kicks in this year. A second open enrollment period starts Nov. 15.

Like Maryland, Connecticut was one of the first and most enthusiastic states to embrace the idea of building its own insurance exchange rather than using a federal site to implement the law’s sweeping changes in health-care coverage.

But unlike Maryland, where the system crashed within moments of launching and has limped along ever since, Connecticut’s exchange has worked as smoothly as any in the country.

Maryland is not alone in having deep-seated problems with its health marketplace. Technical issues also have plagued Oregon, Minnesota and Hawaii. But Maryland will be the first to walk away from its site, a particular embarrassment for Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), who was placed in charged of implementing health-care reform in Maryland by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

It was not immediately clear how much more money Maryland may have to invest to get a fully functioning system, according to the two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the changes.

The money the state has already spent has gone toward development and operation of the Web site and for agency operating costs. The existing Maryland system will stay operational for “a period of time” while the Connecticut version is being installed, one of the individuals said.

O’Malley told reporters Friday morning to expect an announcement on the future of the troubled exchange next week. The exchange board is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“We still have stuck applications. We still wrestle with it every day,” O'Malley said at a news conference. “The clock was ticking, and we have been changing the flat tires on this rolling car for the last five, going on six months now. And it has gotten better with every new fix applied to it, [but it is] still not working as it was supposed to work.”

Dori Henry, a spokeswoman for the Maryland exchange, said no decision would be finalized until the board votes on it. “The official line is the same: A decision has not been made,” Henry said. “There will not be anything further coming from the state until a decision is made.”

Henry said the exchange has cost $125.5 million to develop and operate.

As of last Saturday, 49,293 Maryland residents had enrolled in a private plan through the exchange, far short of the state’s original goal of 150,000 enrollments and shy even of its revised estimate of 75,000 to 100,000.

Some of the hardware that Maryland bought for its system, such as servers, can be salvaged, but the software and coding that are the guts of its online marketplace will be replaced, said the individuals familiar with the decision.

To knit together the new system, Maryland will turn to the consulting firm Deloitte, which wrote the code for Connecticut’s exchange. Deloitte spokesman Paul Dunker declined to comment about Maryland’s plans.

Kevin Counihan, chief executive of the Connecticut exchange, Access Health CT, said his staff has been talking for months with a handful of states interested in using Connecticut’s technology. He said any announcement about Maryland’s plans would need to come from Maryland.

“A lot of states will be watching them and watching to see what they do,” Counihan said.

Mary Pat Flaherty works on investigative and long-range stories. Her work has won numerous national awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.
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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