View unedited comments left by users of MarylandHealthConnection.gov
COLLEGE PARK — Just hours after the troubled Maryland Health Connection website launched on Oct. 1, the negative comments from frustrated users started to pour in.
Visitors to the state website, which was designed to help uninsured Marylanders obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, used a feedback form to immediately complain that they were unable to create accounts to search for health plans. They angrily reported frozen web pages, broken links, poor site design and other complaints.
“This was suppose to start on 10/1/2013, its 10/1/2013 and nothing is working,” wrote one user at 3:42 a.m. on Oct. 1.
“It’s 9:00PM on December 4th and the create account is freezing up,” another user wrote two months later. “You should save face and put up a “Site Closed” when it is not functioning … allowing the image of it still working stay is only frustrating those of us trying to sign up and destroying any ounce of dignity you have left. Get this right …”
Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 12, 2013, users of the Maryland Health Connection website submitted more than 4,000 comments through the feedback form. Capital News Service submitted a Public Information Act request for the comments, which state officials provided after redacting identifying personal information.
Some commenters offered one word feedback (“Pathetic,” “No”) while others went into great detail about specific problems. Of the 4,000 comments, only 15 were positive, CNS found. The comments are filled with examples of bad grammar, poor spelling, sarcasm, profanity, political attacks on Gov. Martin O’Malley and racist comments about President Barack Obama.
Taken in total, the comments offer an inside look at specific problems experienced by real users of a site that has been plagued by problems since launch.
Several of the problems users expressed in the beginning, such as the inability to create an account or change their password, have been resolved since December. Still, the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange board voted April 1 to scrap the broken website and rebuild it with technology from Connecticut’s successful online insurance marketplace.
In February, state officials fired the lead information technology contractor, Noridian Healthcare Solutions, and replaced it with Optum/QSSI, a Columbia-based contractor. They had less than a month to fix issues with the site before the initial enrollment period ended March 31.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced March 9 that an inspector general will be investigating how funds were spent to develop the Maryland Health Connection website and why problems occurred.
To help consumers navigate the website, the Maryland Health Connection tripled the number of call center workers in December. And on March 18, the MHBE board set up a new hotline to help Marylanders who had started applications but struggled to complete them before March 31.
Attorney General Doug Gansler has criticized his rival for the governorship, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, for failing to resolve website glitches and boost enrollment numbers in his role as the co-chair of the state’s Health Care Reform Coordinating Council.
After the MHBE board voted to replace the troubled website, Brown and Gov. Martin O’Malley released a joint statement, which recognized the shortcomings of the online marketplace but also asserted that the website will be ready for the next open enrollment period in November.
“The hard work of getting so many Marylanders enrolled was made even tougher because Maryland’s health exchange website did not meet expectations—a source of great frustration, especially for those who were trying to obtain healthcare for the very first time,” the statement said. “Our Administration has not succeeded at every first try, but we have never given up. We learn from both success and failure. The vendors we hired failed to build us the platform they promised. So now that the first open enrollment period has ended, we’ve decided to upgrade our website.”
A major issue in the first few days of the launch was the inability to create an account, which was required to browse plans.
“How in the world do you simply create an account to begin this process? I get to a point where it asks me if I have ‘forgotten my username or password’ ? How in the hell could I have “forgotten” it when it was NEVER set up to begin with ……………………………” one user wrote on Oct. 2.
“Beautiful site. Just not functional. I hit get started and it took me to a sign in page. But didn’t allow me to actually sign up … only sign in with my username and password that I can’t figure out how to sign up for!” another user wrote the same day.
Dori Henry, the director of the office of communications for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said this error was resolved in mid-October and the account creation function has worked properly ever since.
Several users were told their passwords were incorrect and when they tried to reset them, the link did not work.
“I created an account but now you tell me my password is wrong. You password reset site is not working. If you can’t even get a simple website right, how are you going to get my health care right? Stop this nonsense now,” one user wrote on Oct. 2.
“I missed my password twice because I forgot the capital letter. My account is now disabled. What do I do. HELP!” another user wrote on Nov. 1.
Henry said this glitch was addressed in December and January and improvements were made to the self-service password function in February.
Some users used the form to vent about their frustration with the Obama administration.
“I hate the Obamas. All OF THEM AND THIS BILL,” one user wrote on Oct. 7.
“Your website does not work. I’ve no idea why we voted for someone who thought it would be a good idea to give the government more control of our lives …” another user wrote on Oct. 29.
“You should have had the DMV or the post office running things. par for the course for another government boondoggle,” one user wrote on Oct. 3.
Despite this, some commenters did not expect their complaints to be read by anyone other than the webmaster, if at all.
“Are you going to publicize the feedback responses? I doubt it,” one user wrote on Oct. 3.