February 4

THE DEMOCRATIC Party’s commissars in Maryland have decreed that meddlesome questions about the state’s disastrous online health-insurance exchange are distracting and, for the time being, terribly inconvenient. Having closed ranks behind the gubernatorial candidacy of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who bore putative responsibility for getting the operation up and running, party leaders have put out the word: No official inquiries that might embarrass Mr. Brown will be tolerated before the Democratic primary on June 24 or the general election in November.

That sort of diktat is expected from a polit­buro; it’s less appealing in a democracy founded on principles of accountability — even the one in Annapolis, where Democrats rule and Republicans flirt with irrelevance. The real question is for Mr. Brown himself. Having fumbled the most important assignment he received in eight years in office, wouldn’t he like to get to the bottom of what went wrong? Shouldn’t he be calling for a no-holds-barred investigation into a project that, under his authority, has failed tens of thousands of Marylanders?

Putting aside the matter of Mr. Brown’s political prospects — which the Democratic hierarchy in Annapolis is loath to do — the exchange’s problems demand urgent attention. Even now, four months into its existence, the exchange remains bug-ridden and balky. Having bungled the first enrollment period, which ends March 31, the state must now figure out how to correct the problems for the next one, which begins Nov. 15. An open, aggressive inquiry can only help with the troubleshooting.

Instead, Democratic grandees have advanced the argument that it would be too difficult and diversionary to conduct an investigation and operate the exchange at the same time. “I’m not looking to make excuses for it, but I don’t see anything that warrants a full-scale investigation,” Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), who chairs the Finance Committee, said last week.

Marylanders expect officials in Annapolis to be able to walk and chew gum simultaneously, especially when the stakes are this high. Fourteen states opted to build their own Web sites, and few were more officially enthusiastic about the project than Maryland. Yet the state’s site failed spectacularly from Day One. It has begun to recover recently at a glacial pace. As of Jan. 25, fewer than 27,000 residents had enrolled in private plans, less than 20 percent of the goal of 150,000 by the March 31 enrollment deadline.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Brown’s Democratic primary opponents, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County, have used the exchange’s failings to raise questions about Mr. Brown’s competence. That the questions arise in a political season doesn’t diminish their legitimacy. This is a critical program intended to provide a safety net to hundreds of thousands of people who need it. The state dropped the ball in implementing it. Waiting for a previously scheduled audit to begin this summer and end, no doubt, well after November’s general election, is a transparent dodge.