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Md. officials say they are ready for health care

Maryland health officials on Monday expressed confidence the state was ready to open its new health insurance marketplace and address problems that could arise with the large undertaking.

Becca Pearce, executive director of Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, said that while temporary setbacks relating to the online marketplace are anticipated, she’s confident the state is ready to handle them.

“We are fully poised and ready to be paying attention to exactly what those issues are,” Pearce said, noting problems could entail a computer server that goes down or connectivity issues. “We have a command center that’s going to be up and running from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the next several weeks to make sure that as things come up we are ready to respond to them as quickly as possible.”

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the state’s health secretary, announced a new feature that will enable Maryland residents to see if a specific doctor they want participates in a particular health plan they are considering. People will be able to search for a specific doctor by name, specialty and geography.

“It’s an incredible empowerment of consumers, one that has never existed before in Maryland and, to our knowledge, doesn’t exist anywhere,” Sharfstein said.

Officials also say there’s no rush for people to choose a plan. That’s because coverage does not start until Jan. 1. Residents will have until March 31 to sign up.

Pearce described Tuesday’s opening as the beginning of a 180-day journey to enroll the uninsured. She also noted that people can receive help through a statewide network of people who are available at local health departments and state social services offices. There also is a center for people to call to get help with questions over the phone.

When the online marketplace opens Tuesday, people will be able to create an account and determine their eligibility for financial assistance or for Medicaid.

“They can shop, compare and select a plan that’s right for them, so we are very excited about what we have to offer,” Pearce said.

Pearce said she believed people would likely take the opening days to become acquainted with the marketplace before actually deciding on an insurance plan.

“I don’t anticipate there will be a lot of purchases tomorrow,” Pearce said.

Maryland has an estimated 800,000 uninsured residents, Sharfstein said, and it’s estimated half of them will be insured by 2020.

“We’re on our way,” Sharfstein said.