ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP/WJLA) - Maryland officials said Tuesday they were beginning outreach to customers about an agreement with insurers to provide retroactive coverage for those who unsuccessfully tried to get health care through the state's glitch-plagued health care exchange.
Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration also announced it would stay the course with its own health care exchange during the remaining months of open enrollment ending March 31, instead of moving to the federal site.
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown faced questions from lawmakers about a separate plan to enroll people who had trouble signing up to join an already existing state insurance pool. Brown told lawmakers the agreement with insurance providers should pave the way for all but several hundred of roughly 4,000 affected people to get insurance, but that a backup plan was still needed by opening up the Maryland Health Insurance Plan.
"If I knew 9 months ago what I've learned since the launch, I would have insisted on receiving the underlying documentation," Brown said.
Brown told the House committee that he became aware that the $170 million website was doomed by bad hardware, bad software and feuding contractors only after its Oct. 1 launch. His claims echo statements he has been making for weeks.
Candidate Brown has touted his leadership during the rollout of the Affordable Care Act as the prime reason he's ready to be governor, but his rivals, several of whom attended Tuesday's hearing, sense he's vulnerable.
"If he truly didn't know what was going on, that speaks to his ability to lead," Del. Jolene Ivey said.
The administration is backing emergency legislation to expand MHIP. The measure would take effect as soon as lawmakers approve and O'Malley signs it.
People who seek insurance under the changes will need to demonstrate that they tried to enroll before Jan. 1. Some skeptical lawmakers questioned how the state could do that.
Brown said the state has the capability to confirm someone tried to get insured through the state's computer system, even if the confirmation process was not 100 percent.
His claims are falling on deaf ears for those who have struggled to obtain health insurance through the state exchange.
"I tend to think these things are a top down thing, so people at the top should be held responsible," Maryland resident Ryan Adams said.
Del. Susan Krebs, R-Carroll, questioned whether the state was making the same mistake of rushing into a complicated technological initiative as she believes it did by building its own health exchange in the first place. She also questioned how much the changes would cost the state.
"So, there are so many unanswered questions," Krebs said.
The O'Malley administration announced an agreement with all four insurance carriers who are participating in the state-based exchange to allow consumers with known issues in their applications before Jan. 1 to register for a private plan of their choice. CareFirst, Evergreen Co-op, Kaiser Permanente and United HealthCare, set a deadline on Jan. 21 for people to enroll retroactively.
Brown said the agreement to allow people to enroll in the plans will significantly reduce the number of affected people who would need to enroll in MHIP, which has served as a high-risk pool for state residents without insurance. State officials had estimated it would cost between $5 million and $10 million to provide coverage to between a few hundred and 5,000 people.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans renewed a call to create a special joint investigative committee to review problems with the $170 million health care exchange.
"The administration's rush to pass this bill makes it clear that the colossal failure of the Maryland Health Connection website is a symptom of deeper problems with Maryland's inept handling of Obamacare implementation," Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, said, adding that the problems foreshadow dire consequences to future state budgets.
The state set a goal of enrolling 150,000 people in qualified health plans, but as of Jan. 4, only 20,358 had enrolled.
The exchange's poor performance so far has been a political headache for Brown, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is term limited. Brown took on a high-profile leadership role to implement health care reform in Maryland.
One of his opponents for the Democratic nomination, Del. Heather Mizeur, listened in a corner of the hearing room where the lieutenant governor spoke. Del. Jolene Ivey, the running mate of Brown's other opponent, Attorney General Doug Gansler, watched from another side of the room.