Rebecca Pearce, director of Maryland’s ailing health insurance exchange, resigns

The Maryland official who directly oversaw the rollout of Maryland’s health insurance exchange resigned Friday amid continuing technical problems that have hampered the state’s online enrollment efforts.

After an emergency session Friday night, the board of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange accepted the resignation of Rebecca Pearce, its executive director, and thanked her in a statement for working “tirelessly and with tremendous dedication” for more than two years.

In recent weeks, the lagging enrollment and online glitches have embarrassed the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and become a political liability for Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D). Brown, who is seeking to succeed O’Malley, has taken a leadership role in implementing the federal health-care law in Maryland.

The technological problems with Maryland’s exchange have been particularly problematic because the state was among the earliest and most aggressive in embracing the health-care law.

A senior O’Malley administration official said Pearce was unhappy with changes in the project leadership that were directed by O’Malley, who has pledged to fix the Web site’s problems by the middle of this month.

“We were unhappy that the rollout didn’t go the way we expected it to go,” the O’Malley official said. “And so we made changes to the leadership of the project.”

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to more freely discuss the matter.

Pearce could not be reached for comment Friday night.

Earlier Friday, Maryland officials reported a modest uptick in the number of people choosing to enroll in private plans through the online exchange and said a new round of data coming next week would show “a marked increase” in total enrollments.

As of Nov. 30, a total of 3,758 Marylanders had chosen to enroll in private plans through the Maryland site, an increase of 734 from the previous week, state officials said. The state, which launched the exchange Oct. 1, has set a goal of enrolling 150,000 people by the end of March.

Carolyn Quattrocki, who heads the governor’s office for health reform, was named Friday night to serve as interim executive director of the exchange.

Pearce was appointed to the executive director position in September 2011. Before that, she was director of benefits administration at Kaiser Permanente. She began her health-care career at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.

The Maryland exchange’s rocky start is in marked contrast to some other states running their own marketplaces, including California, Connecticut and Kentucky. Industry officials who are trying to sign up consumers in Maryland say the Web site is improving, but not reliably stable.

But with a little over two weeks before the Dec. 23 deadline to sign up for coverage effective Jan. 1, the state is still wrestling with stubborn technological problems, posting weak enrollment numbers even as other states have signed up thousands of consumers for plans under President Obama’s new health-care law.

Maryland is among the handful of state exchanges that have been dogged by continuing difficulties. Hawaii’s exchange has also had serious problems and the quasi-governmental agency in charge publicly apologized in October for delays. In late November, the head of the agency, Coral Andrews, announced she would be resigning.

In recent weeks, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D), Brown’s chief rival in the 2014 Democratic primary for governor, has blamed Brown for the problems with the online exchange.

Brown co-chairs a council that oversees health-care reform in the state.

In a statement earlier this week, Gansler accused Brown of dodging the news media and ducking responsibility for one of the few tasks assigned to him by O’Malley. And on Friday, Gansler was critical of Brown after a Baltimore Sun story about Pearce taking a vacation during Thanksgiving week, when site repairs were ongoing and there was a legislative hearing on the exchange’s progress.

“It’s inconsistent,” said Peter Beilenson, chief executive of Evergreen Health, one of the insurers offering plans on the exchange. Evergreen has been trying to help consumers enroll in face-to-face appointments and over the telephone. In some instances, four people “zoomed right through,” he said Friday. “Then 23 others are stuck.”

State officials said other management changes have been in the works that were made official this week. Jon Kromm, who works in the governor’s office for health reform, will oversee the overall operational effort, taking on a similar role to that of Jeffrey Zients, who was appointed by Obama to oversee repairs at the troubled HealthCare.gov federal Web site. Isabel Fitzgerald, the state secretary of information technology, will be overseeing the technological fixes underway.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
Lena H. Sun is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on health.
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