Gov. Martin O'Malley urged uninsured people Friday to sign up for health coverage as soon as possible to beat Monday's deadline.
Despite the ongoing technical problems with Maryland's health care exchange, O'Malley said the state has already seen a huge surge in enrollments over the past week.
"It's not a drive-through McDonald's by any means," O'Malley said, cautioning that there are delays due to heavy traffic, but that the system is working better than it has in the past. "We're actually moving a lot of people," he said.
The governor said more people signed up for private insurance through the exchange in the past week than in the first 10 weeks after the exchange went live in October. The online insurance marketplace crashed the day it opened, and contractors have been working since then to revamp it and boost enrollment.
In advance of Monday's deadline, after which people without health care will face a tax penalty, state contractors are holding enrollment fairs across the state to help people sign up.
One of the biggest events will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Baltimore Convention Center, where 33 specially trained "navigators" will be available to help people enroll through the exchange. Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Elijiah Cummings are expected to attend that fair.
The state's call center, meanwhile, has extended its hours until midnight in order to help people enroll.
And because of the glitch-ridden exchange, state officials said anyone who begins the enrollment process by Monday will meet the deadline even if they have not completed an application by the end of that day.
On Friday, O'Malley likened repairs to the exchange to changing flat tires on a moving car. He said it was still not working at a level he would accept when the next open enrollment period begins in November.
State officials are expected to announce as early as next week whether they plan to entirely scrap the exchange or rebuild parts of it. The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday.
The failure of the state's exchange has provided political ammunition to opponents of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in the Democratic contest for governor.
Brown was the administration's point-person overseeing health care reform. Before the exchange launched, Brown held events across the state to raise awareness about it. He has not held similar events publicizing MOnday's deadline.
On Friday, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler's campaign attacked Brown for not playing a larger public role in convincing people to sign up for insurance before Monday's deadline.
Gansler's communications director Katie Hill said in a statement that Brown "brags about being a health care leader on his website then turns a blind eye when Marylanders – who can’t use his broken online exchange to buy insurance – wait in line for hours to buy it in person, only to get turned away."
Brown did not attend O'Malley's Friday morning event to urge people to sign up for care; an aide said he was attending a Maryland State Police graduation ceremony at that time.
Later in the day, Brown's campaign shot a salvo back at Gansler in what's become an acrimonious contest to succeed O'Malley.
"Doug Gansler should support Lt. Governor Brown's efforts to help families get the coverage they deserve rather than spending the end of open enrollment sounding like a Republican attacking Obamacare, which ultimately only discourages people from signing up,” Brown's campaign manager Justin Schall said in a statement.