ANNAPOLIS — As state leaders scramble to remedy problems with Maryland’s health care exchange, state Sen. David Brinkley is pushing for an independent investigation into the troubled rollout.
On Tuesday, the state’s lieutenant governor and others involved with the health exchange laid out their efforts to help those who haven’t been able to secure insurance due to the problems. But Brinkley, R-District 4, argued that to move forward, state lawmakers also need to understand root causes.
In a Tuesday letter to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Brinkley wrote that “bureaucratic malpractice” contributed to the technical glitches besetting the state’s health care website. And during a Finance Committee hearing, Brinkley said state lawmakers had been “lied to” and told the site would be ready for its Oct. 1 launch.
“The Legislature here is being treated like mushrooms — we’re being kept in the dark and covered in manure,” Brinkley, the Senate minority leader, said in an interview.
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown responded to Brinkley’s request for an investigation by saying that at this point, the state should put its resources behind fixing the website. There will be time in the future for studying what went wrong, he said.
“To do the kind of investigation audit that I think ought to happen, we’d have to pull people off the front lines,” he said during the Senate Finance Committee hearing. “Right now, we need all hands to get this done.”
On Tuesday, Gov. Martin O’Malley and Brown announced that insurance retroactive to Jan. 1 would be available for the estimated 4,000 Marylanders who couldn’t secure coverage because of the website snafus. Brown testified that people had been locked out of their online accounts, encountered error messages when they tried to shop for insurance plans or had trouble creating their accounts. Some of these problems are ongoing and others have been fixed, he said.
The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange will attempt to contact people with known problems registering on the state site. These people will be able to apply for retroactive insurance through one of the four private carriers involved in the exchange. But with the enrollment deadline coming in only a week, state lawmakers must also make allowances for those who miss the application window, Brown said.
On Tuesday, he testified in support of emergency legislation to extend state health benefits to individuals who couldn’t secure insurance through the site. The bill would give these people until March 31 to enroll in the Maryland Health Insurance Plan, a state-administered program meant for people who have certain medical conditions or have been denied coverage for health reasons.
Though these individuals will receive the state coverage as a stopgap measure, the goal is to transfer them as soon as possible to a qualified health plan, according to Brown’s testimony. State leaders have aimed to enroll 150,000 Marylanders in qualified health programs by March 31, but only 20,358 people had signed up by Jan. 4, according to state analysts.
The fiscal report attached to the emergency legislation estimates that opening the Maryland health plan to this new pool of uninsured individuals could cost the program between $5 million and $10 million.
However, Michele Eberle, executive director for MHIP, estimated that the total will be closer to $500,000, since all but 200 or 300 people are expected to enroll with a private insurance carrier. Eberle said MHIP’s reserves are sufficient to absorb this cost.
The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday afternoon voted favorably on the emergency legislation, which, if passed and signed by the governor, would take effect immediately. Brinkley voted in support of the legislation.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.