Hotline offered to those with applications stuck in health exchange website

Consumers who have attempted to enroll in health insurance through the Maryland exchange but have become stuck in the website can call a new hotline to ensure they are covered before the end of open enrollment March 31.

The exchange board approved a plan Tuesday to set up the hotline – 1-800-396-1961 – to guarantee the chance for coverage.

It's the latest move by exchange officials to work around technical problems that have plagued the exchange website created under the Affordable Care Act last October. Officials have said at one time up to 11,000 applications were stuck or lost in the system due to technical problems, though some have been resolved or are no longer needed.

At other times, officials have delayed deadlines, used other state programs and employed paper applications to get coverage for the uninsured and underinsured.

Those who call the hotline by March 31 will notify those at the website, called the Maryland Health Connection, that they have started an application but have been unable to complete it. They will receive a call and special assistance in enrolling in coverage beginning May 1 – the last date to begin coverage this year. Consumers who are referred by the main call center will also receive help.

Open enrollment for next year begins in November.

The four carriers offering policies on the exchange website have agreed to the plan.

"We're committed to signing up as many Marylanders as possible for quality, affordable care before the end of open enrollment," said Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in a statement. "While we have made real progress enrolling over 230,000 individuals, we won't rest until all Marylanders have the coverage they deserve."

Maryland has enrolled almost 40,700 in private health plans through the exchange, and almost 194,000 have enrolled or have been automatically moved from a state program to Medicaid.

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