O’Malley: Nine ‘major’ problems with online health-insurance exchange have been fixed

December 14, 2013

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said Saturday that his administration has met a mid-December deadline he set to fix the biggest technological problems hindering enrollment through the state’s online health insurance exchange.

O’Malley (D) said that a list of nine “major fixes” that he demanded last month were made as of Friday morning. Among the big problems was the Web site’s tendency to freeze at a highly inopportune moment — just as users seeking to obtain insurance plans clicked the “Enroll” button.

“The nine major fixes have now been completed, and the Web site is now functional for most citizens,” O’Malley said in a statement in which he also thanked Marylanders frustrated by the delays for “their patience and persistence.”

Since its Oct. 1 launch, the glitch-ridden exchange has been a major embarrassment for O’Malley and other leaders of a state that boasted of its embrace of President Obama’s new health-care law. It has also become a political liability for Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), the administration’s point man on implementing health-care reforms and a leading candidate for governor next year.

Some lawmakers and others said they were skeptical of the fixes, and administration officials acknowledged Saturday that much work remains to be done on some aspects of the exchange.

O’Malley said the state would now begin in earnest a marketing campaign to direct more people without health insurance to the online exchange. Many of the promotional efforts have been delayed because the site was unreliable.

The shortcomings have drawn growing scrutiny from lawmakers in both political parties as enrollment in Maryland has lagged behind other states that elected to run their own exchanges rather than rely on the federal marketplace.

On Saturday, House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) said she remains skeptical about the extent of the fixes based on her continuing efforts as a self-appointed “watchdog” of the Web site. Szeliga has documented her frustrations trying to use the exchange on Facebook.

“I’m pleased that somebody is doing something to put the train back on its tracks,” she said. “But ‘skeptical’ is the perfect word. My personal experience has not been good.”

As of Dec. 7, 5,179 people have enrolled in private insurance plans through Maryland’s exchange. The state has set a goal of enrolling 150,000 in private plans by the end of March.

At a news conference Thursday, O’Malley said the state was continuing to pursue that goal despite what he acknowledged has been “a very rocky start.”

In addition to those enrolling in private plans, about 16,500 more Marylanders have signed up for Medicaid coverage through the exchange site. The state has a goal of enrolling 110,000 new Medicaid recipients by the end of March.

As evidence of their progress, administration officials said that more than 900 people had used the exchange Friday to enroll in private plans and Medicaid. That was significantly more than any day since the exchange launched, they said.

Other problems that are said to be fixed include instances where the screen goes blank when users try to download a document as part of the enrollment process and an inability for users to use security questions to get back into their account if they are locked out after providing an incorrect password.

O’Malley plans to elaborate on the administration’s progress during a news media briefing Monday, an aide said.

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for governor next year, has repeatedly hammered Brown over the exchange, accusing him of botching its implementation and ducking responsibility.

Brown is co-chairman of a council that oversees health-care changes in Maryland, and his campaign Web site says that he has “positioned Maryland as the national leader in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.” In recent weeks, Brown has said that he has not been involved in the day-to-day operations of the exchange, which is run by an independent agency.

In an interview last week, he said he and O’Malley had received positive reports about the status of the exchange until shortly before it launched.

In a statement Saturday, Brown said that he is “encouraged by the tangible improvements to the Web site.”

“Under our new leadership team, we’re starting to see progress,” Brown said. “Experts have been working around the clock to address the technical problems, and while we still have a lot of work left to do, more Marylanders are getting quality and affordable care through the exchange.”

As problems with the exchange persisted this month, O’Malley directed several members of his administration to take on more direct roles in operating the exchange. Those changes prompted the Dec. 6 resignation of Rebecca Pearce, the exchange’s executive director, administration officials said.

Carolyn Quattrocki, who heads the Maryland Office of Health Care Reform, was named to serve as interim executive director of the exchange. Isabel FitzGerald, state secretary of information technology, has been overseeing the technological fixes.

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