O’Malley discusses work on health care website

ANNAPOLIS — Fixing glitches on Maryland’s online marketplace could continue for as long as another month and a half, Gov. Martin O’Malley said Friday, comparing the effort to dealing with a hurricane or a snowstorm.

Still, he said improvements are being made every day. Maryland Health Connection, the online portal where people can shop for health plans and enroll in them, also updated the numbers of people who have visited the website and created accounts since it opened on Oct. 1, when it ran into problems almost immediately.

“There’s a lot of different families and a lot of different entities and individuals going through this, but my sense is probably for the next month or so — month and a half — we will be working out the glitches on the portal,” O’Malley said.

So far, the website has had more than 217,000 unique visitors, and more than 25,000 people have created accounts. The state also said more than 15,000 calls have been made to call centers, and more than 16,000 residents have learned whether they are eligible for financial assistance.

O’Malley said only about 1,000 people have enrolled so far, but he noted the period between now and November is mostly a shopping phase for people looking for the right plans.

O’Malley anticipated a significant increase to start toward the end of November.

The governor also underscored that coverage won’t begin until January, so there is plenty of time for people to enroll.

Still, the governor said it was challenging to handle the website traffic.

“You know how when you have a hurricane or a snowstorm or some other big event that requires an all-hands approach and a unified command and a battle rhythm and prioritizing problems? I mean, this is a big new effort, so every day there are challenges, but every day we work through those challenges beginning with and prioritizing the ones that affect the greatest numbers of people and then working our way down,” O’Malley said.

The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange also reported on Friday that the state is beginning to learn more about people who are exploring options. Of the first 25,000 accounts created with verified identity, the most common age group is 25 to 29 years old. The exchange also said 53 percent of account holders in Maryland are female, and people who are creating accounts come from all parts of the state.

The exchange said its information technology team continues to work around the clock to make changes that are improving the performance of the website. An update to the system’s software is planned in the near future, and additional steps are being taken to improve performance.

“We expect the user experience will continue to improve in the days and weeks ahead,” according to a news release Friday by the exchange.