Baltimore County

Delaney presses state on switching to federal health exchange

The Baltimore Sun

Rep. John Delaney is ramping up pressure on Maryland officials to abandon the state's troubled health insurance exchange and switch to the federal system, penning an open letter Monday that calls on Gov. Martin O'Malley to explain the pros and cons of such a move.

In the letter, the Montgomery County Democrat asks the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to provide an analysis of the technical feasibility of making the switch. Delaney first floated the idea of using the better performing federal exchange last month. O'Malley has said the administration is considering the idea.

"I understand that my idea of transitioning to the federal website may contain challenges that I am underestimating and it may not, in fact, be feasible," Delaney wrote in the letter. "For this reason, I am asking for a specific analysis from you as to the 'pros and cons' of switching to the federal exchange for all or part of the Maryland interface."

Users of both the state and federal health exchanges experienced significant technical problems when enrollment for new coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act began in October. But federal officials appear to be moving more quickly toward fixing those problems.

Over 18,000 state residents have used the site to enroll in private coverage -- about 12 percent of the state's enrollment goal, Delaney wrote. Nationwide, the Obama administration has enrolled about 30 percent of its goal.

"We have fallen quite far behind the national average and we're running out of time," Delaney wrote. "With less than three months remaining in the open enrollment period, each day is critical. Given how fundamental health care is to the lives of my constituents, I feel that further discussion of the options available to the state is essential."

The state health department was not immediately available to respond, though O'Malley and other officials have noted the state has made significant progress fixing the site. The governor personally briefs members of Congress on efforts to fix the site, and he has held regular press conferences on the issue.

Politically, Delaney's letter opens a rare rift among Maryland Democrats, most of whom have been hesitant to press the O'Malley administration publicly on the site's problems. The issue is particularly sensitive this year, as Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown -- a candidate for governor -- has been criticized by opponents for his role in implementing Obamacare.

O'Malley, meanwhile, is considering a run for president in 2016, and in speeches in early primary states has emphasized his management track record in Maryland and, previously, as mayor of Baltimore.

Switching to the federal exchange would be a blow the administration, which was among the first states in the nation to embrace the Affordable Care Act and to begin work on creating its exchange.

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