On the federal exchange, Maryland would not have as much autonomy, Silverstein said. As with state sites, it would be costly and time-consuming to migrate Maryland data, Dai said.

In January, Maryland had considered using the federal site for certain back-end functions, but decided there were too many risks to switching during open enrollment. The federal site is running smoothly but suffered technical problems early on that hampered enrollment in the 36 states that chose to use it rather than build their own sites.

The federal government charges for using its site, and some states think using their own would prove cheaper. Connecticut officials said states also get more customization for the money by striking out on their own.

Dai believes Maryland's best option is to continue to fix the current site. In the meantime, he said officials should use low-tech methods, such as manual paper applications, to sign up more people.

"The best approach is to continue to improve the state website but set a realistic target level of reliability at a specified target date," he said.

Experts say it is not unusual for large technology projects to fail at first. Consumers often wait to buy the second generation of a device to give companies time to work out the kinks.

"We all know you shouldn't buy the first model of car or smartphone," said Counihan, head of Connecticut's exchange. "That's analogous here."

But private companies typically don't fail so publicly, said Ritu Agarwal, a professor at the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Before a product launch, they usually have more time for testing and tend to roll out products and build upon their functionality over time, resolving any glitches.

"Failures are not accepted under any circumstance, but let's say it's not unusual," Agarwal said. "Many business organizations also experience technical failures and disasters, but they don't want to talk about it."

Several other states, including Massachusetts and Oregon, are also having major website problems. Minnesota's exchange officials have said they're going through the same evaluation process as Maryland.

"We are actively assessing where we stand and in what direction we need to go in terms of next steps, but for the rest of this open-enrollment period — which ends on March 31 — we will continue to improve on and work with the technology we have in place," said Jenni Bowring-McDonough, a spokeswoman for the exchange, called Mnsure.

Bowring-McDonough said officials also are reviewing proposals from a "prime vendor" who would help guide the state's decisions regarding other vendors.

Whatever Maryland chooses to do, it should be the "most effective and timely" way to enroll the state's consumers, said Rep. John K. Delaney, a Democrat who has pushed exchange officials to move to the federal website. He said accepting Connecticut's offer also should be considered.

"The clock is ticking, and when it comes to health care, each day matters," Dulaney said.

"We've spent months trying to fix a product that likely isn't fixable, and I hope that leaders in our state put all options on the table with the singular goal of finding the most efficient way of connecting consumers to providers."

Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.




Options for Maryland's health care exchange

•Fix existing website

•Adopt federal site

•Adopt another state's technology

•Form a consortium with other states

•Build another site