ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s new online health insurance marketplace has been beset with technical difficulties – and that’s just in the English language. For Spanish-speaking residents, the site is inaccessible, one lawmaker complained Wednesday.
Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery, said the Latino community’s access to the information and services offered through Maryland Health Connection is inadequate. The website and full online application are currently only available in English, although printable forms in Spanish can be downloaded through the site.
Rebecca Pearce, executive director of Maryland Health Benefit Exchange — the state agency managing the online marketplace that is part of the federal Affordable Care Act — said she was unable to give an exact date when the Spanish application would go online.
“Unfortunately we were unable to complete the entire [Spanish] application end-to-end,” before the website launched on Oct. 1, Pearce said. “We do have the front pages ready to go in Spanish but we felt that because it wasn’t a complete user experience that we wouldn’t be able to support that.”
Gutierrez, who raised her concerns at the Health Care Reform Coordinating Council, which is co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, said Pearce’s statements did not put her at ease.
“Today my purpose of attending the meeting was to hear where we were…with outreach to Latinos,” said Gutierrez, who added that her district contains the highest number of registered Latinos in the state. “I’m very, very disappointed with the response.”
English-speaking users of Maryland Health Connection encountered their own difficulties when the site experienced technical problems because of a high volume of users during its first weeks of operation.
During development, the website was tested to handle 5,000 concurrent users, but during the first days of operation, that number was surpassed, Pearce said. As of October 11, Maryland Health Care Reform has had almost 220,000 unique visitors and the call center has answered nearly 19,000 phone calls, she said.
Pearce assured the council that technical issues are being corrected and that administrators are focused on communicating and being transparent with users.
“We are working around the clock to improve the performance of Maryland Health Connection,” she said. “We constantly look at social media, we’re looking at the feedback form on our website…anybody in the market who’s willing to give us feedback, we’re addressing those issues as they come in.”
Maryland Health Connection has seen more than 25,000 account registrations. The largest demographic of applicants were residents between 25 and 29-years-old, followed by those between the ages of 30 and 34, according to Pearce.
More than 1,121 Maryland residents have successfully enrolled in health insurance plans through Maryland Health Connection and approximately 1,600 have filed paper applications, Pearce said.