Governor candidate David Craig: Md. should stop promoting its troubled health exchange

A leading Republican candidate for Maryland governor wants the state to stop spending millions of dollars marketing and promoting its problem-plagued health insurance marketplace and instead point residents directly to private insurance carriers and other options.

Harford County Executive David R. Craig (R) released a plan on Monday that calls on the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to obtain a waiver from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to divert money away from promoting the state’s health exchange and toward a “public awareness campaign informing consumers of their right to obtain health insurance directly through carriers.”

“Up to $150 million dollars is going towards promoting a failing exchange, and throwing good money after bad needs to end now,” Craig said in a statement. “The administration must realize that their intended solutions are only causing more problems, creating mass confusion, ruining credibility in government and harming our quality of life.”

State officials are already directing people to private insurers if they need coverage and do not need a subsidy to pay for it, said Nina Smith, a spokeswoman for the governor.

“We are constantly reminding Marylanders that they have options,” she said.

Many residents trying to use the exchange’s Web site, Maryland Health Connection, have encountered a number of problems since it launched on Oct. 1, including error messages, frozen accounts and incorrect information. State officials say they have made a number of improvements and will continue to do so.

As of the last count in late December, about 18,250 residents had signed up for health insurance through the exchange, a number that lags behind other states and Maryland’s own projections. The governor and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), the pointman on implementing the Affordable Care Act in Maryland, announced last week that they will soon push emergency legislation to provide retroactive coverage to the hundreds — or, possibly, thousands — who were unsuccessful in trying to sign up through the exchange.

On Monday, Craig also called upon these state officials to address a software glitch on the federal health exchange Web site that he says routed some Baltimore area users with questions to resources in neighboring states.

O’Malley and Brown have said they are committed to perfecting Maryland’s exchange but that they could explore other options, such as turning over part of online enrollment to the federal health-care Web site or partnering with better-functioning states.

U.S. Rep. John K. Delaney (D-Md.) sent a letter to Maryland’s secretary of health on Monday and asked for a brief analysis of the pros and cons of switching to the federal health care exchange, perhaps even temporarily. Delaney wrote in the letter that Maryland has fallen behind the national averages for sign-ups and is running out of time to catch up, according to text of the letter released to reporters.

“With less than three months remaining in the open enrollment period, each day is critical,” Delaney wrote. “It is important to understand if we have viable alternatives or if the best course of action remains a reboot of the existing product.”

Jenna Johnson is a political reporter who is covering the 2016 presidential campaign.

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