Maryland officials want to limit access to the state’s new health insurance Web site when it launches in November so that any glitches can be worked out and the system won’t be overwhelmed with requests.
The state’s staggered approach is different from what will happen elsewhere in the country on Nov. 15, the beginning of the second enrollment period for health insurance made possible by the federal Affordable Care Act. Advocates raised concerns Tuesday that the unusual schedule planned for Maryland could further muddle an already confusing process.
“It’s a communications issue,” said Leni Preston of the Maryland Women’s Coalition for Health Care Reform. “All of the national media is focused on November 15. . . . How confusing is that for consumers when, in fact, that’s not what is happening in Maryland?”
State officials said that having people sign up in stages will enable the state to more easily identify and fix any technological problems with the rebuilt health exchange, which is replacing the deeply troubled Web site that debuted last year and crashed almost immediately.
Maryland officials explained their “kick-off week” schedule Tuesday during meetings in Annapolis and Baltimore.
The Web site will go live Nov. 9, officials said, enabling visitors to browse plans but not enroll. On Nov. 15, state residents can attend an enrollment fair to sign up. The next day, a call center will start to process applications. The following day, insurance brokers and navigators can sign up their customers.
On Nov. 18, local health and social services caseworkers across the state will have access to the site so they can sign up people who seek their help. Starting Nov. 19, any Marylander can access the site and enroll.
Isabel FitzGerald, Maryland’s top technology official, said that despite pre-launch testing, some flaws may not emerge until people are using the site.
“You can simulate users, but what you can’t do is predict unpredictable, actual human behavior, and so we will see some of that in that first week,” FitzGerald told a legislative oversight committee in Annapolis.
FitzGerald and other officials say they are confident that the rebuilt site will allow tens of thousands of people to enroll for coverage. The state has spent at least $40 million rebuilding the site, using technology borrowed from Connecticut’s much more successful exchange.
Even if the technology debut is flawless, the state faces a number of challenges. One of the most daunting: Everyone who signed up for subsidized coverage during the first enrollment period, Oct. 1 through March 31, must reapply by Dec. 18 if they want to receive their subsidy next year.
That means Maryland will have about a month to re-enroll about 60,000 people who signed up over a six-month period. If they don’t sign up again, their coverage will continue, but the government subsidy that covers all or part of the cost will disappear.
State health officials and insurance companies say they have planned an aggressive campaign to reach those customers via e-mail, letters and phone calls to explain the re-enrollment process.