Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) acknowledged to a national television audience Sunday that Maryland had “squibbed the kickoff” of its online health insurance exchange but predicted the state would still meet an enrollment goal set for the end of March.
O’Malley was the lead guest on CNN’s “State of the Union,” where he was billed as “a possible presidential party pick” for 2016.
He faced some tough questions from host Candy Crowley about the rollout of Maryland’s exchange, which she described as “disastrous by most accounts.” The launch was also the subject of a Washington Post story on Sunday that detailed how state officials had failed to heed warnings that no one was ultimately accountable for the $170 million project and that the state lacked a plausible plan for how it would ready by Oct. 1.
“Were you asleep at the switch?” Crowley asked O’Malley. “You know, you had contractors that were suing and fighting with each other. You had people resigning. A lot of people said those were warning signs that something needed to be done. Did you miss it?”
“Oh no, this complex IT challenge had ups and downs every step of the way,” O’Malley responded. “There were lots of cautionary lights, lots of red lights, but there were also green lights. . . . This was a very complicated endeavor, but the bottom line is that we are more than halfway to our enrollment goal now in Maryland.”
The state has said it would like to enroll 150,000 people in private plans through the exchange by the end of March and another 110,000 through Medicaid. While enrollment through Medicaid has exceeded expectations, only 20,358 people had selected private plans as of Friday.
“I think we are going to make our goal,” O’Malley told Crowley, referring to the combined target of 260,000. “That Web site is now functional for most citizens, and we’re still working through the problems. We squibbed the kickoff, but we’re making it better.”
O’Malley suggested that the state has no plans to switch to the federal exchange before open enrollment ends in March, as some Democratic lawmakers have suggested.
“The problem is, there was no assurance at that time that the federal Web site was going to work any better . . . and it didn’t,” O’Malley said. “Right now, in fact, our Web site is working a lot better for the majority of our citizens who are signing up for Medicaid than the federal site is.”
During the program, O’Malley largely ducked two topics Crowley sought to ask him about: his own political ambitions and the scandal that has emerged in New Jersey over the massive traffic snarl on the George Washington Bridge that documents show was engineered by those close to Gov. Chris Christie (R).
While O’Malley said it is “an honor to even be mentioned” as a 2016 contender, he is focused on his work in Maryland, including the just-opened session of the General Assembly.
Asked about the Christie scandal, he said: “I don’t know that I can really shed more light on it.”
O’Malley was more forthcoming on bills being discussed in Maryland to raise the minimum wage and legalize marijuana for recreational use in Maryland.
“I think we’re zeroing in on around a $10 an hour minimum wage in the state of Maryland,” he told Crowley. O’Malley had previously voiced his support for an increase but not publicly offered a number.
On legalizing marijuana, he restated a position that he offered last week: “I’m opposed.”