Gansler calls for allowing Marylanders an option of using federal health exchange


Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Douglas F. Gansler on Thursday proposed giving Marylanders the option of purchasing health insurance through the federal exchange, saying there is “no end in sight” to problems with the state-run Web site.

The proposal by Gansler, the state’s attorney general, was a swipe at Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, his chief rival in the Democratic primary for governor. Brown has taken a leadership role in implementing the federal health-care law in Maryland.

“The Affordable Care Act was a great accomplishment, and Maryland should have led the way in implementing President Obama’s legacy legislation,” Gansler said in a statement issued by his campaign. He said was proposing “an easy solution to what was a preventable problem.”

According to Gansler’s proposal, consumers would have the option to purchase insurance through“Maryland’s existing broken health exchange Web site,” but they would also have the opportunity to use “the fully functioning federal exchange Web site to buy Maryland health plans.”

Brown’s campaign declined to respond.

Gansler’s proposal came just hours before a Democratic candidates forum scheduled Thursday night at Leisure World, a large retirement community in Montgomery County with an active Democratic club.

Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur (Montgomery), another Democratic candidate for governor, are planning to participate. Brown is not expected to attend because he has been in New York spending time with this father, who is 89 and has been in poor health.

Maryland is one of 14 states that opted to build and run their own health-insurance marketplaces rather than rely on the federal portal.

Brown and other Maryland officials have acknowledged significant problems with the state-run exchange, which crashed within moments of its Oct. 1 launch and has been riddled with glitches since. But Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has said repeatedly in recent weeks that the exchange is now functional for most users.

Gansler’s proposal Thursday echoed an alternative that had been previously floated by Rep. John K. Delaney (D-Md.).

“I’ve been saying this for two months, so in that regard it’s not an original idea but an obvious one,” Delaney said.

Delaney has been weighing a bid for governor but said last weekend that he expects to be continue serving in Congress.

Gansler, whose campaign got off to a rocky start, has seized on problems with the health exchange as a way to question Brown’s readiness to lead. In an interview last week, Gansler repeatedly called Brown an “emperor with no clothes.”

Mizeur has also been critical of Maryland’s health exchange, calling it a “debacle” and “a failure of leadership.”

On Thursday, Mizeur called for seven debates among the three leading Democratic candidates for governor, each focusing on a different topic.

Her plan was a counterproposal to one issued last week by Brown that called for three debates among the candidates for governor and two among the candidates for lieutenant governor.

“We would be happy to accommodate a debate schedule for the candidates for lieutenant governor as well, but our top priority should be giving voters multiple chances to hear from the top of the ticket,” Mizeur said in a letter to Brown. “I look forward to your response. My campaign previously reached out to your staff, but has received no reply thus far.”

Thursday night’s event at Leisure World is being billed as a forum and is not part of either debate proposal.

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