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Health site glitches will extend beyond deadline

ANNAPOLIS — Some serious issues affecting Maryland’s foundering health benefits exchange website will not be fixed by the time open enrollment ends in March.

Maryland Health Benefits Exchange Interim Director Carolyn Quattrocki addresses members of the newly formed joint legislative oversight committee. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Additionally, documents released to a newly formed joint House and Senate oversight committee show that the insurance exchange is projected to cost taxpayers more than $250 million by the end of fiscal 2015.

State Health Secretary Joshua M. Sharfstein, Maryland Health Benefits Exchange Interim Director Carolyn Quattrocki and state Information and Technology Secretary Isabel Fitzgerald briefed the newly formed 10-member legislative oversight committee for two hours on Monday.

The briefing is the first since the oversight panel was created a week ago following passage of an emergency bill to provide insurance to residents who were unsuccessful in signing up for insurance through the state benefits website.

Sharfstein said there have been significant improvements to the site since it opened Oct. 1 but added: “That doesn’t mean we’re satisfied with the way the system is functioning.”

Fitzgerald said technicians have been attempting to address anywhere from 340 to 563 “glitches” or other issues in the system. The number fluctuates, he said.

“There are a number that are reasonably significant that are not on track to be fixed by March 31,” Fitzgerald said, adding: “The real concern is the issues that are high priority or urgent.” He was unable to identify the exact number of these.

Fitzgerald said the problems with the site run from issues that affect enrollment to “nuisances that affect the user.”

Fitzgerald said afterwards that she expects that all of the issues are resolvable. Sharfstein, however, said that officials continue to explore options. These include eliminating Noridian, the current primary contractor; using the federal health benefits exchange website; or moving to a more successful model adopted by another state.

Sharfstein declined to provide a timetable for such a decision but said it would not likely come before the end of March when the open enrollment period ends.

“Right now, we’re not setting an artificial deadline with this,” Sharfstein said. “Right now we’re in the middle of a lot of different options.”

Before the hearing, Harford County Executive David R. Craig called on Gov. Martin J. O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown to release figures on how much the site has cost taxpayers.

“I am dumbfounded that legislators should even have to ask how much this thing costs,” Craig said in a statement. Craig, a Republican, is running for governor, as is Brown, a Democrat.

Sen. David R. Brinkley, R-Frederick and Carroll, Monday renewed his call for an independent investigation of the failures of the website.

Hours later, legislators on the task force were given a document outlining the expected cost of the website.

The health benefit exchange is projected to cost nearly $261.1 million, most of it federal money, by the end of fiscal 2015, according to figures provided to the oversight committee.

This includes more than $51 million in fiscal 2012 and 2013, which includes $1.5 million in state funds.

The current budget year is expected to see more than $138 million in projected spending, including more than $17.2 million in state funds. The amount for the current budget year also includes a request to cover $33 million in deficiencies such as $6 million for expansion of the call center and $14.4 million for an emergency contract with Optum/QSSI Services.

Projected spending in fiscal 2015 totals more than $72 million, including more than $28.5 million in state money.