ANNAPOLIS– Maryland’s gubernatorial candidates may not agree on much — with the singular exception of the state’s troubled health insurance exchange. Many running for the state’s highest office called the rollout a “failure,” and most opponents pointed fingers at Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who was tasked with implementing the reform.
“Brown’s mismanagement of the development of the state health insurance exchange has been abysmal and recently we learned that the federal government will be investigating this terrible waste of a quarter of a billion dollars in taxpayer money,” said Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan, an Anne Arundel County real estate broker and the leader of the conservative advocacy group Change Maryland.
Attorney General Doug Gansler, Brown’s most significant Democratic opponent in terms of polling and fundraising, called the implementation a “total failure” and proposed a different approach.
“To ensure failures of this kind do not happen again and to provide the people of Maryland with the accountable government they deserve – a government that never forgets that the money it spends belongs to the people of Maryland – as governor, I will create an online transparency portal that enables Marylanders to see how contracts are being awarded, how money is being spent, and how many Marylanders are being served,” Gansler said.
Hogan, Brown, Gansler and four other major candidates for governor — both Democratic and Republican — participated in a Capital News Service questionnaire.
But Brown, who faces Gansler and Delegate Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, in the June 24 Democratic primary, highlighted the achievements of the Maryland Health Connection in his questionnaire response.
“Together, we’ve successfully enrolled … Marylanders into plans that provide them with the ability to go see a doctor, affordable prescription medication, and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that they are no longer one illness or accident away from bankruptcy,” Brown said.
According to state figures released last week, 65,186 residents enrolled in health plans through Maryland Health Connection, and 248,495 gained Medicaid coverage.
But Brown also acknowledged the problems with the implementation.
“… There’s no question that the rollout did not go as smoothly as it should have,” Brown continued. “Before the next open enrollment period, we’re committed to doing a thorough review of what worked and what didn’t to make sure that our exchange never stops improving.”
Reports of technical problems have surrounded the website, since its October 1 launch. Earlier this month, the board of Maryland’s health exchange voted to replace most of its troubled website software with technology successfully implemented in Connecticut, costing the state as much as $50 million.
Harford County Executive David Craig, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, offered a suggestion.
“There is a simple solution to the inaccessibility to the health care which was created by the current administration – we can allow people to choose their own insurance broker using their subsidy,” Craig said. “A new bureaucracy which has cost $240 million did not need to be created.”
Delegate Ron George, R-Anne Arundel, also criticized the implementation.
“The [Maryland] Health Exchange has been a complete failure and has never been more than a political tool the O’Malley/Brown administration has used when it benefits them. The Exchange … is not fully functional, Maryland has one of the three worst state exchange enrollment rates in the nation, and we have spent $200 million in taxpayer’s money thus far trying to make it work.” George said.
Charles County businessman Charles Lollar, another GOP candidate, said that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is “fraught with problems.”
“Frankly, with the millions spent by the Governor and Lt. Governor to unsuccessfully implement the exchange, your question is very difficult to answer at this point. In 2015, if I am elected Governor by the people of Maryland, our administration will inherit what the Lt. Governor has erected – and we will have to see what we need to do then.” Lollar said.
Delegate Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, said that earlier this year, she released a set of practical options for fixing the exchange and worked with her colleagues in the General Assembly to put them into action.
“If I were the current governor, we would never have faced these problems,” said Mizeur, “I understand that making progress requires more than passing legislation—reforms must be properly implemented as well.
“Health care is a right, not a privilege. If we put politics aside and work together, we can still guarantee that right for every person in our state,” she said.