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Sharfstein challenged on health exchange

Maryland Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein faced some tough questions before a congressional oversight committee Thursday before heading back up to Annapolis to discuss a report from the Office of Legislative Audits.

Sharfstein appeared before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as part of a hearing on states with troubled health benefit exchanges. A nearly 12 minute exchange between Sharfstein and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, was perhaps the most contentious part of the hearing. (See the full hearing.)

Jordan criticized Sharfstein for his characterization that the state would meet its goals for the number of people who had signed up for private health insurance thorough the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

“My understanding is (Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services) enrollment target was 150,000 for the state of Maryland and as of April 1, you are at 60,000,” Jordan said.

(Actually, slightly more than 63,000, according to numbers released on Tuesday by Sharfstein.)

Sharfstein denied knowledge of a federal goal and said he had never seen it. Later, Sharfstein told Jordan and others that the state goal of privately insurance registrations through the site was 75,000 but that it had been revised down from an earlier goal of 150,000. Both goals were set by the Hilltop Institute at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Sharfstein earlier this year said he asked the nonprofit to revise it’s numbers.

“They made an error in the report,” he told Jordan.

“How convenient,” Jordan replied, calling it “defining the standard down.”

Sharfstein told Jordan that the Hilltop report “was an estimate, not a goal.”

The state health department secretary went on to stress that despite the problems of the site, the state had made progress in getting it to work even as they announced earlier this week that they were going to switch over to using a site built by Connecticut.

“Of course you were going to make progress,”Jordan said. “When it’s this bad, there’s no place to go but up.”