Feds to Review Maryland’s Troubled Health Care Exchange

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has agreed to review Maryland’s troubled health care exchange, a congressman said Monday.

Rep. Andy Harris, the state’s only Republican congressman, said he has confidence that the nonpartisan and independent inspector general, who has subpoena power, will thoroughly investigate problems that have plagued the exchange since it opened in October.

“You get to the bottom of it,” Harris said in an interview in Annapolis. “They’re very thorough, again, independent, nonpartisan, great reputation for objective evaluations of the spending of federal dollars.”

Harris requested the investigation last month, and the congressman received a letter from HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson confirming a review would take place.

Donald White, a spokesman for the inspector general, declined to comment.

“It is the policy of the office of inspector general not to share correspondence with congressional offices with third parties,” White said.

Maryland’s online health exchange has been bedeviled by computer problems that have made it difficult for people to enroll in private health care plans since its debut Oct. 1. Although improvements have been made, computer problems remain. Maryland is one of 14 states that have built their own health exchanges. So far, the state says 38,070 have enrolled in private health plans as of March 1.

Nina Smith, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O’Malley, said despite the exchange website problems, the state has signed up tens of thousands more through Medicaid as part of health care reform. She also said there is still time to enroll more people by the March 31 deadline.

“We welcome this review, but it’s no mystery what happened: the vendors we hired failed to deliver us the product they promised,” Smith said.

Last month, Maryland’s health exchange board voted to fire the state’s prime information technology contractor, Noridian Healthcare Solutions.

A report by Maryland analysts last month found that the state’s defective health care exchange could cost the state $30.5 million because the state is unable to determine whether people remain eligible for Medicaid due to problems with the exchange. The 31-page report also said “there is significant uncertainty about the way forward” with future information technology spending that will be needed. The report also noted the broken relationship between Noridian and its subcontractor.

Maryland officials have decided to stick with the exchange through the open enrollment period that ends March 31. The state is evaluating alternatives for the next enrollment period that begins in November. It is considering adopting technology developed by another state, joining a consortium of other states, partnering with the federal exchange or making major fixes to overhaul Maryland’s existing system.

Problems with the exchange have been so rampant that lawmakers passed emergency legislation in January to create a backup plan for people who tried to enroll for coverage Jan. 1 but couldn’t through no fault of their own.

The ongoing problems with the exchange have been a major point of contention in an election year. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is running in the Democratic primary for governor, was the designated point man in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration to implement health care reform in the state. His opponents have pounced on the exchange’s problems.

“It’s welcome news that the federal government will conduct an independent investigation into Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s failed health care exchange rollout,” Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who is running against Brown in the primary, said in a statement Monday.

Last week, the investigative arm of Congress agreed to look into problems with state health exchange websites. The U.S. Government Accountability Office accepted an initial request from a group of House Republicans seeking an audit on how $304 million in federal grants were spent on the Cover Oregon website, which has yet to enroll a single person online without special assistance.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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