In the race to become Maryland’s next governor, Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery) has in recent weeks studiously avoided directly placing blame for the state’s defective health-insurance marketplace on Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), who is in charge of implementing health-care reform.
But Mizeur’s running mate, the Rev. Delman Coates, had no problem doing so during a forum in Greenbelt on Friday evening.
“It’s a legitimate question for voters to ask: If one is in charge of a massive, statewide project of great importance to Maryland families and it is an epic failure, do you deserve to run the state?” said Coates, who is the senior pastor at Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton. “Why should Maryland voters trust that individual?”
Coates said that before the Oct. 1 launch of Maryland’s online marketplace, in which residents could sign up for health-insurance plans made possible by the Affordable Care Act, he organized dozens of meetings at his church to explain how the exchange would work and why people needed to sign up for coverage.
“And what happened when that day came is that it didn’t work,” Coates said of the Maryland exchange. “And it still doesn’t work. And the transition to the Connecticut system will not really be fully implemented until later on in the year.”
Many members of his congregation struggled to get the health insurance they needed, Coates said. So the pastor said he became frustrated during the first gubernatorial debate on May 7, when Brown was asked about the flawed exchange and responded, in part: “I sincerely regret that any Marylander was inconvenienced.”
On Friday, Coates fired back: “It’s not an inconvenience when people are unable to get the kind of access that they deserve.”
Coates’s comments came during a Democratic lieutenant-governor candidate forum hosted by the Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt Democratic Club in Greenbelt featuring Coates and Ken Ulman, the Howard County executive who is running with Brown. Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s), who is running with Attorney General Douglas Gansler, was unable to attend because of a scheduling conflict.
The question posed to the candidates was: “What positive steps will you take to improve the implementation of the Affordable Care Act?”
Ulman went first and said that although the Maryland exchange faced challenges — similar to those faced by the federal exchange — the state was still able to enroll 330,000 Marylanders in private health plans or Medicaid, surpassing an overall goal of enrolling 260,000. He did not mention that Maryland fell far short on its goal just for private health plans, even as other states and the nation enrolled many more people than expected.
Ulman credited Brown with taking charge and making changes. That’s the same message that was being pushed by former president Bill Clinton during a fundraiser for the Brown-Ulman campaign on Tuesday evening.
“So when things don’t work out well, you have two choices, right?” Ulman said Friday. “You can throw up your hands and stand on the sidelines and criticize, as some have done. Or you can roll up your sleeves and be a leader, like Anthony Brown has done. . . . That shows the strength of leadership. I don’t want to run for office with somebody that’s perfect. I want to run for office with somebody that demonstrates the values that you roll up your sleeves and you make things work.”
Ulman credited Brown with firing the vendors who built the first exchange, increasing call-center staffing and restructuring leadership at the exchange. Brown has also taken credit for these actions, although aides in Annapolis have said that it’s more accurate to credit Gov. Martin O’Malley’s entire administration, a team that includes Brown.
Ulman said he is confident that Maryland will fully rebuild its exchange using technology from Connecticut before the next enrollment period opens on Nov. 15.
“My mom raised my brother and I to look at every challenge as an opportunity,” Ulman said. “It’s an opportunity to get better, to succeed. “
Coates had a different take, ending his comments by saying: “Ultimately, if Heather Mizeur were the governor of the state of Maryland, this never would have happened.”