Md. health officials: Rebuilt health insurance online site will be fixed by Nov.


In this March 28 file photo, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley holds up information on a helpline for the state’s health care exchange. Maryland’s health insurance website is being rebuilt to correct the technical glitches that marred the first rollout. (Brian Witte/Associated Press)
August 19, 2014

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration is confident that its rapid rebuilding of the state’s health insurance Web site is progressing as planned and will be ready before the next enrollment period begins in November.

The state’s first attempt at launching a site was riddled with technical problems that made it much more difficult for residents to sign up for health insurance made possible by the Affordable Care Act. Maryland is now rebuilding the site using technology developed by Connecticut. The fix is estimated to cost at least $40 million, if not much more.

“This is a totally different experience from last year,” said Joshua M. Sharfstein, Maryland’s top health official and chairman of the exchange’s governing board. “We’re implementing a proven technology, we have a terrific IT leader and we’re hitting the milestones. . . . We’re certainly looking forward to a very, very different experience from last year.”

Earlier this month, federal officials who oversee state-run health insurance exchanges gave Maryland formal approval for the rebuilding. In September, Maryland officials will have to demonstrate that the new site can operate smoothly when open enrollment begins Nov. 15.

Despite high confidence in the rebuilt site, Sharfstein said Tuesday at a board meeting in Baltimore that the exchange is preparing backup plans and manual processes that can be used if the site doesn’t work as planned. And Maryland might limit access to the new site during its first few days of operation to ensure that it is fully functioning before heavy traffic hits, Sharfstein told reporters after the meeting. That option, along with details of who would have access and when, will likely be presented at the board’s next meeting, Sharfstein said.

“It isn’t because of any lack of confidence,” Sharfstein said of the option. “It’s more about an IT management practice. . . . In general, when IT sites are launched, they aren’t launched for everybody all at once.”

And because Maryland is changing its system, everyone who used the first Web site to sign up for health insurance will have to re-enroll — a process that some health-care activists worry could confuse people and cause some to lose their subsidized coverage.

Sharfstein said the exchange is compiling a list of the tens of thousands of Marylanders who signed up for coverage through the exchange so that staffers can repeatedly contact them and ensure that they re-enroll. Those who do not re-enroll will lose any government subsidy that helped pay for their coverage, although Sharfstein said the exchange is exploring ways to continue coverage.

This aggressive messaging campaign comes as the exchange plans to spend less on traditional advertising than it did during the first enrollment period, which ran Oct. 1 through March 31.

But the exchange will spend nearly $450,000 on a social media campaign, largely managed by a hired contractor, to spread information about enrollment and interact with residents who might need help.

As of Tuesday, the exchange had fewer than 1,900 followers on Twitter and 4,650 on Facebook.

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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