The Maryland health exchange goes online

Maryland was an early adopter of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. It's health insurance exchange opened on Oct. 1 and suffered early glitches, largely because so many Marylanders wanted to shop for coverage. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / September 30, 2013)

The troubled Maryland health exchange is facing another setback after a programming error sent Medicaid enrollment packets for as many as 1,078 customers to the wrong addresses, it announced on Sunday.

The packets included the names, dates of birth and Medicaid ID numbers of the customers, but they did not include Social Security numbers or financial or medical information, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced.

The state stopped mailing all enrollment packages when it discovered the error Friday, and Medicaid and IT employees worked over the weekend to find the issue, which was identified as a programming error by Noridian Healthcare Solutions, the primary contractor that received a $71 million contract in 2012 to develop the exchange, the announcement said.

Dori Henry, the Maryland Health Connection spokeswoman, characterized that the misstep as a "one-time error" that pushed the wrong information and had already been fixed.

Critics of the exchange and others said is was the latest in a series of problems for the exchange, which has been plagued by technical difficulties ever since launching on Oct. 1. On Friday, The Sun reported that the state had listed the wrong 1-800 phone number on its site, which took callers to a Seattle pottery business. Henry said the exchange is addressing the incorrect number, which was brought to its attention by The Sun.

One opponent, Senate minority leader David Brinkley, a Republican who represents Frederick and Carroll counties, was incredulous when reached for comment. He called the health exchange a "Pandora's box of problems."

"We're just discovering more and more problems, and more and more people have been put at risk," Brinkley said. "It's absolutely outrageous in a day and age when we're concerned about identity theft and our personal privacy."

Brinkley renewed a call for an investigation by independent counsel into the operation of the health exchange.

"It's not a programming error, it's a program error," he added. "The whole program is an error."

An investigation found that up to 383 households with 1,078 individuals may have been affected, the health department said. Anyone whose packets were sent to incorrect addresses will be notified and resent their packages early this week, the department said. More than 110,000 people have signed up for Maryland's health exchange under the Affordable Care Act.

The announcement said anyone who received the wrong enrollment information may call the health exchange's Consumer Service Center at 1-855-642-8572. The glitch did not cause anyone to lose coverage, the announcement said.

In a statement, Tom McGraw, President and CEO of Noridian Healthcare Solutions, said Noridian "regrets that enrollment packages were mistakenly sent to the wrong address and any inconvenience this may cause for Marylanders. Noridian provided the State with enrollment data that the State previously tested and approved. Noridian was not involved in the printing or mailing of enrollment packages."

These issues follow a weeks-long struggle that would-be customers faced when trying simply to sign up for coverage through the exchange.

State leaders have said they intend to stick with the Maryland exchange, despite pleas from some opponents to switch to the federal exchange.

In an emailed statement, a campaign spokesman for Attorney General Doug Gansler, who is running against Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Del. Heather Mizeur for the Democratic nomination for governor, pinned the mishap on the lieutenant governor, the point person in developing the exchange.

"Another day, another glitch and another delay in getting Marylanders applying for health insurance their coverage," communication director Bob Wheelock wrote. "Sadly, this is yet another example of the failed leadership by the Lt. Governor in overseeing this crucial component of the Affordable Care Act. It again begs the question, why was such a large contract given to a North Dakota IT company when here in Maryland are some of the best and brightest in the country. The people of Maryland have still not received any answers from Anthony Brown, just more problems."

The Brown campaign did not respond to requests for comment Sunday night.

In a written statement, Mizeur said: "In the midst of so many missteps, our state needs to be at the top of its game — for no reason other than these mistakes have real consequences for our families. This can't be about political maneuvers or grabbing headlines to bury the problems. People are being harmed and our focus needs to be on real solutions. This is Maryland. We can do better than this."

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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