The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Maryland, My Maryland

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


On Sunday, January 12, the Washington Post wrote a highly critical article of the Maryland Health Connection, the state’s website for its health insurance exchange.  The website has been a disaster since October 1, opening day for all the Obamacare exchanges.  On the following Tuesday, the government official in charge of implementing the exchange, the state’s Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown (D), testified before the Maryland legislature’s Senate Finance Committee and the House Health and Government Operations Committee about the serious and continuing problems with the website.

Maryland was one of the 16 states that decided to develop their own exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare.  In 2010, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley claimed that his state would lead the nation in implementing the healthcare reform law.  He said the state’s exchange would be “unparalleled.”

On Oct. 1, according to the Post article, as President Obama was declaring that “Maryland would lead the charge in signing up residents for new health-care plans,” the website was having a melt-down.  The state’s health exchange director was constantly being rejected by the network.  She finally became the first to log on but only with the help of her staff.  Maryland’s exchange may not be unparalleled but it certainly parallels Healthcare.gov’s troubled rollout.

Just as we know that Department of Health and Human Services officials were aware months before the scheduled Oct. 1 rollout that the federal exchange’s website was not ready for primetime; Maryland officials were also warned a year in advance that there was no one person answerable for its $170 million health exchange and no credible plan to make it work on time.

The Washington Post discovered that as state officials continued to claim the Maryland’s exchange would be a model for other states to follow, behind the scenes there was chaos.  Bad blood had developed between two IT contractors that eventually led to a lawsuit, three project managers had quit, and other key people left because they understood the project was a pending train-wreck.

HHS officials in charge of the federal Healthcare.gov website tested it before the rollout date and found it lacking because it crashed when just a few hundred people logged on.  Maryland officials were also warned that its exchange’s website was “extremely unstable.”  But in both instances, government officials decided to go forward and launch their websites on time.

According to the Post, only four people in the entire state of Maryland were able to sign up via the Maryland Health Connection on the first day.  State officials were “amazed that anyone had gotten through the system successfully” and reached out to each person to “make sure they were real.”

The Post continued, “The site’s problems continue to prevent Marylanders from signing up for health insurance.  As of Friday [January 10] 20,358 people had selected private plans, and state officials have said they do not expect to come close to their initial goal of 150,000 by the end of March.”

I can attest to the fact that the Maryland Health Connection is defective.  It took a month for me to access the website and gain the ability to shop for health insurance plans.  I wasn’t impressed with my choices, the various plans’ costs, and found little information on exactly what the plans offer or which doctors would be in the network.  I ultimately decided to stay with the health insurance I have.

Governor O’Malley has asked his state legislature to enact emergency legislation that will spend $5 to $10 million to expand the state’s existing risk pool, the Maryland Health Insurance Plan.  It would temporally insure high-risk people that can prove they were unable to get insurance via the state’s exchange website.  O’Malley also asked the four insurance carriers to provide retroactive coverage to January 1 for individuals who had trouble getting insurance.  The companies have complied.  Similarly, albeit without legislation, President Obama created an emergency catastrophic plan for individuals that had insurance but lost it due to Obamacare and has also asked insurance companies to provide retroactive coverage.

And once again, taxpayers and rate-payers will be responsible paying for government incompetence.

At the hearings held in the state’s capitol, the Washington Post reported that Lt. Governor Anthony Brown fielded hostile questions from both sides of the political aisle.  Republicans accused Brown and his staff of malpractice while Democrats expressed anger that no one told them of the pending disaster until opening day when the Maryland Health Connection website imploded.  For example, Sen. Thomas Middleton, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he explicitly asked officials if Maryland was ready for the Oct. 1 rollout and was told incorrectly that it was ready to go.

Lt. Governor Brown said that his focus is now getting the website fixed so Marylanders can easily enroll in the exchange.  He also said he was never informed that there was pending trouble.  Sound familiar?  It should.  When HHS Deputy Chief of Information Officer Henry Chao was queried at a hearing by members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee if he knew about a report that showed the Healthcare.gov website was in serious trouble, he said “no.”  CAGW wrote about it here.

As of January 4, Maryland had only enrolled 20,358 people, far short of its 150,000 goal.

What makes this narrative all the more interesting is Lt. Governor Brown was given the task of overseeing the development of the exchange in order to give him something to burnish his record as he runs for governor in 2014.  Now his major primary competitor in the race, the state’s Attorney General Doug Gansler, is nipping at his heals over the botched website rollout.  Governor O’Malley, who has his eyes on the presidency for 2016, had hoped that the Maryland Health Connection would be a shining accomplishment under his belt.  Looks like both candidates could end up running away from healthcare reform instead, just like many other candidates are doing nationally.

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