Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown testifies to the House Health and Government Committee about Maryland's health exchange. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun / January 14, 2014)

Gov. Martin O'Malley's emergency plan to give insurance to people unable buy it through the broken health exchange cleared the House of Delegates along party lines Tuesday.

The plan, approved 94-24 with support from only one Republican, would allow people stymied by the technical troubles of the state's online marketplace to get retroactive health care through a state program. The state's Senate needs to sign off on some small changes before the bill goes to O'Malley for his promised signature.

The idea once carried a price tag of as much as $10 million, but state lawmakers said that successfully getting thousands of people in line for private retroactive coverage last week dramatically lessened the cost of this stop-gap measure. More than 1,400 households – as many as 4,000 people - have signed up for retroactive coverage through private insurers. State officials estimated as many as 5,000 people tried to buy health insurance through the exchange but could not complete their applications.

House Republicans took Tuesday's vote as an opportunity to impugn both the federal Affordable Care Act and the state’s efforts to build a health exchange to implement it.

“There is no accountability here,” said Del. Tony O’Donnell, a Republican from Calvert County. “The people who screwed this up aren’t being held accountable.”

Del. Pete Hammen , a Baltimore Democrat and chair of the Health and Government Operations Committee, told his colleagues that taxpayers would have to pay hospitals for bills of the uninsured.

“We don’t pass this, and your constituents will pay for it.” Hammen said, adding that the state was “going to get this right” and the exchange will eventually work. He reiterated that lawmakers would continue to probe what went wrong with the exchange.