A woman reads a health care pamphlet in Spanish.
A woman reads a health care pamphlet in Spanish. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

Less than three weeks before uninsured Marylanders get their first look at health plans offered under the Affordable Care Act, officials say preparations are on track.

The state's health exchange website crashed on its first day last year and tangled thousands in technological troubles for months.

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But in a briefing to members of the exchange board Tuesday, the site's top technical officer said it has been fully revamped and appears to be working properly. Though preparations continue, tests show it can handle thousands of users at a time and complex cases.

"We're in good shape," Isabel FitzGerald, the state's information technology secretary, brought in to oversee development of the new website, said during a conference call with board members

In its second open enrollment period, the Maryland exchange is taking a more measured approach to its launch, allowing only limited access to the public at first.

More than 80,000 Marylanders — mostly people who did not have insurance through their jobs or Medicare — bought private plans on the exchange website last year. The bulk received federal subsidies. The exchange also signed up more than 376,000 people in Medicaid.

On Nov. 9, the exchange will allow consumers to window shop for plans from five insurance companies but not buy a policy. The first chance to sign up will come Nov. 15, the official start of open enrollment, but only at an enrollment fair.

Officials said they would release a schedule of enrollment fairs soon.

A couple of days after the enrollment fair the exchange call center will open and "navigators" at community groups and health departments will be able to enroll consumers in plans. On Nov. 19, the website will be available to the general public.

Consumers who still need health insurance can buy a policy, and those who bought one last year can re-enroll. Those who do not re-enroll through the exchange will lose their subsidies.

Open enrollment runs for three months, beginning Nov. 15.

"We've made a tremendous amount of progress," said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, Maryland's health secretary and the chairman of the exchange board. "We're in a very strong position for fall."

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