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Marylanders have to re-enroll on new health exchange

Remember that time you spent hours trying to enroll for health insurance on the state-run exchange, Maryland Health Connection?

Yeah, you have to do it again on the state’s new system, which is still under construction.

State health exchange officials confirmed Tuesday that it’s impossible to transfer enrollment information from the old system, which crashed immediately after its October launch, to the new system being built with technology plucked from Connecticut’s exchange.

Everyone who has signed up for insurance coverage via Maryland’s health exchange is being asked to re-enroll in a plan — not necessarily the same one — during the next open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15.

The announcement was made Tuesday at a meeting of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange board, which operates the Maryland Health Connection website.

The meeting was a busy one, with the board also voting to approve more than $19.5 million in new spending.

As of the end of July, about 78,930 individuals had enrolled in a private health plan sold via the exchange. More than 332,500 had been enrolled in Medicaid, but those beneficiaries have always been required to re-verify their eligibility each year.

Re-enrolling is most critical for people who qualified to receive tax credits from the federal government to help subsidize the cost of buying insurance. If those people do not re-enroll on the new system, they will lose their tax credits — at least until they get in touch with their insurer and re-apply.

Here’s where it gets complicated. Those people will somehow see their coverage renewed, because the Affordable Care Act requires them to have insurance. But Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, chairman of the exchange’s board, said that could happen in one of two ways.

Those individuals might be automatically enrolled in a plan that is sold off the exchange but is similar to the one they chose before. Or, they might be re-enrolled in the same exchange-sold plan, but without the financial assistance, which means they’d be responsible for the entire insurance bill for the first month or so of coverage.

Later on, they would somehow be able to recoup the subsidy they were owed.

Sharfstein said it’s not yet clear which of those scenarios will occur.

Even for people who were not receiving a subsidy, Sharfstein said it’s still critical to re-enroll on the new system because insurance carriers made many significant changes to the plans they were offering.

Some health plans, including all of the ones sold by Evergreen Health Cooperative, are not going to be offered again this fall, Sharfstein said. Other plans were altered significantly, so Sharfstein said “it would really be to everyone’s advantage” to look at all the options offered on the exchange.

“The main message is, no matter what, we want people to go back through the system,” he said, later adding: “We do think it’s going to work out better for consumers to do this.”

At the meeting, Sharfstein provided more details about how exchange staff plan to ensure everyone knows what will be required of them come November. Working with one of its contractors, the exchange is compiling a database of people who enrolled on the old system so they can follow up with each person.

The board also approved five revisions to the scope of work in the state’s contract with Optum/QSSI Inc., the Columbia-based company that took over as prime contractor in December. Those extensions added more than $19 million for work that will be performed through the end of June.

The board also approved spending $446,800 for the second year of a contract with public relations firm Weber Shandwick. That money will be spent on launching and enhancing a variety of social media campaigns.

Sharfstein also said it’s possible that the new exchange will be unveiled through a soft launch, meaning that not everyone would be able to use the system when it opens on Nov. 15. If the state chooses a soft launch, some Marylanders would have to wait a couple days before the system becomes available to them.

However, Sharfstein emphasized that the board has yet to discuss that possibility in detail, and no decision has been made.