Delaney says Maryland still should weigh switching to federal health exchange

December 18, 2013

Rep. John Delaney continued to press the idea Wednesday that Maryland should consider abandoning its online health insurance exchange in favor of the federal marketplace, despite representations by Gov. Martin O’Malley that the most pressing problems hindering enrollment have been fixed.

Delaney (D-Md.) said in an interview that he still believes Marylanders seeking insurance might be better served by the federal exchange. He acknowledged that the switch would present some challenges but said he doesn’t think those are necessarily greater than those posed by the state site, which has been riddled with glitches since its Oct.1 launch.

“It just strikes me that the technological issues of pivoting to the federal site may be less than fixing the state site,” Delaney said. “As an outsider, it seems to me this should be considered.”

Delaney made similar comments to the Baltimore Sun last week. Since then, O’Malley (D) has announced that nine “major fixes” were made to the state exchange and that it is now “functional” for most users. Some users have continued to cite problems, however.

Maryland is among the states that elected to operate their own exchanges under President Obama’s health care law rather than rely on the federal site.

Asked about Delaney’s initial comments at a news briefing Monday, O’Malley said he welcomed “all good suggestions.”

“It wasn’t the first time we thought about it,” O’Malley said. “It’s still an option.”

But the governor also pointed reporters to a recent Wall Street Journal story about continuing glitches on the federal site.

And O’Malley noted Monday that Delaney had not been a regular participant in the conference calls the state is conducting to update members of Maryland’s congressional delegation on progress with the state’s exchange.

“It doesn’t matter how many calls I was on,” Delaney said Wednesday. “It matters whether it’s a good idea.”

Administration officials indicated Wednesday that while the idea has not been dismissed, it’s not one they are likely to embrace anytime soon, if at all.

As of Friday, 7,435 people had chosen to enroll in private plans through the state exchange, according to figures released by O’Malley’s office. The state has set a goal of enrolling 150,000 people by the end of March, a target that O’Malley has continued to stick by.

An additional 22,323 people had enrolled in Medicaid through the exchange as of Friday, officials said. The goal for Medicaid is 110,000 people by the end of March.

Although no official figures have been released, administration officials say enrollment this week has picked up significantly, an indication the site is working better, they say.

The launch of Maryland’s exchange is continuing to draw scrutiny from state lawmakers as well.

Earlier this week, Maryland House Republicans called for a fuller explanation of what went wrong.

“We are requesting that a full forensic audit of the exchange take place so that policymakers and the public can better understand the failures of the rollout, including cost to taxpayers, implementation status and the steps needed to fix Maryland Health Exchange,” said House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel).

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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