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News Maryland Sun Investigates

Md. health exchange to charge for work on public information requests

The online exchange where Maryland's uninsured can buy coverage under the Affordable Care Act has been troubled since its Oct. 1 launch, prompting media outlets and others to dig into what went wrong.

There have been at least 65 requests for information under the state's public records laws, including emails among staff, invoices, contract details and other data.

Now the head of the exchange says the effort to provide the public with information has become an undue burden on lawyers and other staffers, who are still trying to fix the site.

Carolyn Quattrocki, the exchange's interim executive director, told the exchange's board last week that officials plan to remain "transparent," but need a formal policy to manage the load and to recoup costs associated with collecting and legally scrutinizing documents.

Public information laws allow for such charges, and Quattrocki said exchange officials reviewed other agency policies to craft their own.

The exchange board approved its policy including charges that are based on how much time it takes to fill the request. The first two hours of work will be free.

Officials also will recommend that requesters say how much they want to spend when the cost is likely to exceed $250, possibly narrowing the scope of the work.

Other agencies frequently waive fees for public information, and Quattrocki said such waivers will be considered on a case by case basis.

But she told the board during its monthly meeting this week, "We've spent hundreds of hours responding to these requests."

The Sun has filed at least a half dozen requests and used the information to write stories about the dysfunction behind the scenes, what state leaders knew about troubles plaguing the site and the amount of money paid to former executive director Rebecca Pearce after she resigned under pressure.

The exchange website continues to have technical troubles that officials now say is largely due to faulty software. As of Feb. 15, just over 33,000 people had signed up for private coverage on the exchange, far below the 150,000 officials hoped to sign up by the end of open enrollment March 31.

Meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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