Brown says Md. health exchange still evolving
By BRIAN WITTE (AP)
BALTIMORE (AP) — Under fire from political rivals in Maryland's governor's race, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown pledged Tuesday to remain focused on fixing the state's bedeviled health care exchange and conduct a full assessment later on why its website has been troubled with computer problems.
Brown, who is running for governor, took the lead on implementing health care reform in Maryland. Now, as the state's health care exchange remains challenged more than two months after its launch, Brown is faced with questions about whether the exchange is a lemon.
"I am frustrated and disappointed how the launch of the exchange website has gone," Brown said at a news conference in Baltimore. "My focus is on resolving the issues and ensuring that every Marylander can obtain quality, affordable health care."
Brown also sought to reassure the public that the resignation of the exchange's director and other management changes have put the initiative on surer footing. Rebecca Pearce, the former executive director of the exchange, resigned last week. Carolyn Quattrocki, who leads the Governor's Office of Health Care Reform, has stepped in as the interim executive director.
The exchange website had major problems almost as soon as it opened Oct. 1. So far, about 5,200 people have enrolled in health care plans through Saturday. Maryland has an estimated 800,000 uninsured residents, about 14 percent of the state's 5.8 million residents.
"I will be one of the loudest voices calling for a thorough review," Brown said. "Marylanders deserve accountability, and our focus now, though, must remain on the task at hand, and that's to fix it and to get it right."
Brown said he first received indication near the end of September that there would be difficulties because of the volume of people expected to visit the website and because of unique cases for some applications. But, he said, the problems turned out to be bigger.
Gov. Martin O'Malley, at a news conference late last month, said he hoped to have most of the problems fixed by the middle of this month. Brown, however, avoided mentioning a specific deadline.
"What I know now is that we have an exchange that is not serving the people of Maryland, that we now have a leadership team in place to lead an effort to get us to a much better place, that we have dedicated considerably more staff and resources," Brown said. "We have refocused our vendors."
The rough start has provided Brown's rivals for the Democratic nomination in Maryland's governor's race with ammunition to criticize the lieutenant governor's leadership.
Bob Wheelock, a campaign spokesman for Attorney General Doug Gansler, said health care implementation was touted by Brown as a signature initiative.
"It just raises the question why he wasn't on top of this at the get go," Wheelock said. "His day-to-day involvement in this is certainly questionable."
Brown conceded that the Oct. 1 launch was "a real big mess" and admitted he's not happy with where the exchange is. However, he emphasized that improvements are being made at a faster pace and that the number of people enrolled grows weekly.
"Our plan is to continue working every day around the clock with the additional resources that we put into it so that we can increase the number of Marylanders who will be able to access health coverage through the exchange," Brown said.