Two months after Maryland rolled out its own health insurance exchange, the website still has some problems. At this time, only about 3,000 people have signed up through the site.
The state hoped to be a model system for the nation but, like the federal website HealthCare.gov, it’s been a model of failure.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
Well, we've been getting progress reports on the federal health care website, heathcare.gov. But how are the 14 or so state exchanges doing? Kentucky, California, New York, Washington state - great, fantastic - thousands signing up. Others like Oregon, not so great, and Maryland had a particularly rocky start.
Meredith Cohn is with The Baltimore Sun. She joins us now. And Meredith, the state's goal is to sign up its 800,000 uninsured residents. Now we checked in in October. There were lots of glitches then. How'd it doing now?
MEREDITH COHN: It still has lots of glitches and lots of users are still getting lots of error reports. They've enrolled just about 3,000 people in private plans, which is way below their expectations and their hopes. But they say in the last week about 700 people signed up, which is stepping it up just a little bit.
YOUNG: Well, that's compared with thousands who are signing up in Kentucky. So what are some of the problems? We understand one was IDing people.
COHN: Yeah, so Maryland was an early and an enthusiastic adopter of the Affordable Care Act. They got millions of dollars from the federal government to create this sort of model exchange that other states were supposed to be able to use. So they created what seems to be a very complicated site, like the federal site where you had to create an account to browse plans. And they wanted people to be able to sign up for Medicaid online and small businesses, and they kind of created this very big site. So it got complicated, and it just didn't work.
YOUNG: It requires people to enter their - either their Social Security number, their paystub, birth certificate, driver's license and then get that verified to prove that they're a resident. A lot of fingers are being pointed. Dan Clements, who's the former chair of Planned Parenthood of Maryland - again, this is a Democratic-led state. This would have been normally a backer, someone with Planned Parenthood, but he seems very angry at Maryland's lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown, who was appointed by your sitting governor, Martin O'Malley, to run this whole effort. He said one of the problems is that the IT part of this was outsourced to North Dakota.
COHN: Yes, a company called Noridian was hired to put together this website, and they hired some contractors, and somewhere along the line somebody, whether the contractor or the subcontractors, didn't perform as they were supposed to, and they're still trying to work it out.
I know they've brought in extra help. They say they're working around the clock to get some of these error messages taken care of. But, you know, it's not clear they know what's wrong in order to fix it.
YOUNG: Well, Dan Clements' point in his piece in the Baltimore Sun is that there's plenty of good IT right there in Maryland. Why was this outsourced? What are some of the other criticisms of the website?
COHN: The main criticisms come from the users themselves. They can't, you know, create these accounts. They can't buy insurance. And like you said, it is a very blue state. Lots of people really want this insurance, including people who, you know, didn't have insurance or who had insurance that they didn't like, like some of those people who had policies that didn't meet the Affordable Care Act requirements that got their policies dropped.
Some of them were OK with that and wanted to go on the exchange and buy better policies, perhaps even cheaper policies if they had a pre-existing condition, for example. But they feel stuck, and now they feel like they need to just, you know, re-sign up with their old policy if possible.
YOUNG: We mentioned the lieutenant governor. How big a liability is this for Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, who is running for governor? The Washington Post also wrote a piece saying the problems are technical, but is this also a problem of leadership, something that should have been a slam dunk, you know, a state that supported the Affordable Care Act, got money from the Feds, had a lot at stake in getting it right?
COHN: Well, certainly if everything had gone right, you would expect the lieutenant governor to be out there touting that he was in charge. You don't hear him talking about it so much these days. We don't know how big a liability this is going to be. Certainly his opponents in the Democratic primary are trying to make it an issue, but they also are - you know, the legislature and others are treading a little bit lightly. There aren't a lot of hearings and a lot of loud criticism from fellow Democrats who are in charge of the legislature and other candidates for the Democratic primary.
YOUNG: Well, but the residents may have a say, you know, when they go to vote down the road. What is the sense of how long this is going to take to correct?
COHN: Well, Governor O'Malley said about a week or so ago that he wanted the majority of users to be able to sign up for health care by mid-December, which would give consumers about a week before that December 23rd deadline to buy coverage, to have insurance January 1st.
YOUNG: That's Meredith Cohn, a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, on Maryland's rocky start with health care reform. Meredith, thanks so much.
COHN: Thank you.
YOUNG: So as we just heard, Maryland's problems are being blamed on leadership and technical problems. But how's it going where you are? Some of the states that have their own exchanges, Kentucky, California, Washington state, we mentioned Oregon also having some startup problems. If you have tried to get on your state exchange, again these are not the federal portals, but these are the 14 or so states that have their own state exchanges, let us know your experience at hereandnow.org or on Facebook.com/hereandnowradio.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
And are you a young person who has signed up, one of these very highly valued young people, for these health exchanges? Let us know at hereandnow.org. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.