The second year of Maryland’s health insurance marketplace was much more successful than its first.
During its second enrollment period, which began Nov. 15 and ended Sunday, the Maryland Health Connection enrolled 119,096 people in private insurance plans and 145,149 in Medicaid, the government-funded insurance program for the poor. The Maryland Health Connection is the state-run system that allows residents to shop for health insurance plans made possible by the federal Affordable Care Act.
State health officials are allowing Marylanders who started their application process by Sunday to take until the end of the month to formally enroll.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with how it has gone,” Carolyn Quattrocki, executive director of the marketplace, said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. “It was a reflection of the need that was out there.”
Quattrocki’s excitement was echoed by U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who was also on the call. “That’s a quarter of a million people who otherwise wouldn’t have had health insurance,” he said after rattling off the enrollment numbers.
Enrollment in private plans was substantially higher than during the first open enrollment period, which ran from Oct. 1, 2013, to March 31, 2014. The Web site that Maryland built for that enrollment period was so technically flawed that it barely functioned for several months, making it difficult for Marylanders to sign up for insurance. During that six-month period, about 63,000 people signed up for private plans — significantly fewer than state officials had expected. (Medicaid enrollment, on the other hand, exceeded expectations, with 232,075 sign-ups.)
For the second enrollment period, Maryland rebuilt its Web site using software borrowed from Connecticut, which had one of the most successful sites in the country. This quick fix cost at least $40 million, Quattrocki said, and is being paid for with repurposed federal grant money. She added that the state is “very actively engaged” in trying to recover funds from the contractors who built the first site, including North Dakota-based Noridian Healthcare Solutions, but declined to detail those negotiations.
Maryland’s new site had minimal technical problems and allowed for easier browsing of plans — which perhaps is the reason that Marylanders signed up for a wider variety of plans this time.
During the first open enrollment period, 94 percent of business went to CareFirst, the largest and most well-known insurance carrier on the exchange. This time, CareFirst received nearly 80 percent of the business, with 94,303 enrollments.
Two carriers that lowered their rates for the second enrollment period saw a major jump in the number of sign-ups: The Kaiser Foundation Health Plan had 17,791 enrollments, up from 3,560 last year; and the Evergreen Health Cooperative had 3,497, up from 525 last year.
For the other carriers on the exchange: United Healthcare had 2,563 sign-ups, All Savers had 594 and Cigna had 349.