Health exchange seeks to re-enroll all who bought insurance plans

Maryland health exchange officials plan to contact every person who bought one of their insurance plans last year to get them to re-enroll in November.

Most of the nearly 79,000 people who gained private coverage in the state under the Affordable Care Act were subsidized, and they will lose that benefit if they don't sign back up manually.

Most people who do nothing will be automatically re-enrolled in the same or equivalent plans, according to Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, state health secretary and chairman of the exchange board. Evergreen Health Co-op, one of four insurers on the exchange, changed its plans too significantly to roll anyone over, he said.

But if they don't provide updated financial information to the exchange, "they won't get the best deal," he said.

Officials plan to be aggressive about reaching them, he said.

There will be traditional marketing and outreach through media and mail. But part of the campaign will be done through social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, which officials said proved useful to many people during the first open-enrollment period.

People used it not only to learn about enrollment fairs and key deadlines, but to contact the exchange for help with problems, said Alison Walker, who heads up the social media effort.

"This has been a critical listening tool for us," she said of the online avenues.

Officials said Tuesday, however, that all new and existing enrollees may not have access to the exchange website on the first day of open enrollment Nov. 15 because they are considering a "soft opening."

The move will allow officials to ease into using a new website, which is still under development, to replace the existing site that never worked properly after a disastrous launch last October.

"It's an IT management practice, not reflecting any lack of confidence in the website," Sharfstein said. "I'm personally open to the idea."

Officials used work-around methods to eventually enroll about 411,000 people, though most were in Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income people.

People can enroll in Medicaid year-round and are requalified every year on their enrollment date, but those who bought private insurance will have to sign up again during open enrollment.

Exchange officials say they are trying to improve the experience for users this year. They have said during regular updates to the board that development of the new site is on track.

To prove the site is hitting its milestones and leadership is functioning according to standards, Sharfstein also told the board Tuesday that summaries of audits performed by an outside contractor would be made public. He declined to make the whole audits available, saying they were confidential.

The first audit summary, addressing leadership structure and project management, found no major issues, he said. It was not yet available on the exchange website Tuesday evening.

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