Critics say wrong number is latest failure of Md. health exchange

Critics said Saturday that the latest problem to hit Maryland's online health exchange — an incorrect help-line number that directed hundreds of callers to a Seattle-based pottery business — was another symptom of the poorly operating website.

"You can't make this stuff up, and I guess if it wasn't so serious, it could be funny," said Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican.


The website mistakenly listed a 1-800 number that sent some Marylanders attempting to pick a health insurance provider to Seattle Pottery Supply instead of Maryland's call center. The number appears under the words "State Advantage" and "call a representative." The correct number for help shows up multiple times on the site before the incorrect number appears.

A state spokeswoman said Saturday that she had no update on efforts to fix the problem. Maryland officials were unaware of the problem until contacted Friday by The Baltimore Sun.


"They really just need to get their act together. It's just a continual excuse-making," said Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Baltimore County Republican.

She noted that Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, the governor's point man on the development of the health exchange, has spoken about holding hearings to investigate the technical problems that have hampered the site since its launch Oct. 1.

"We are urging the lieutenant governor to follow through with that promise," she said. "We need to know what the heck is going on."

The campaign of Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who is running against Brown for the Democratic nomination for governor, also criticized him.

"'Saturday Night Live' could not make this up," said Katie Hill, deputy communications director for the Gansler campaign. "If this wasn't such a tragic symbol of the failed leadership of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, it would be laughable."

A spokesman for Brown's campaign did not respond to a request for comment Saturday.

Maryland is one of 14 states that chose to build its own website to sell health insurance as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, but the Maryland site has been troubled by problems and crashed the day it was launched. Maryland officials have set a goal of signing up 150,000 people for private insurance by the end of March; 22,512 had signed up on the website as of Jan. 11.

Next week, members of the General Assembly are expected to vote on a stopgap plan that would allow people in limbo because of the website's problems to get coverage through a state-run health insurance program. They have held hearings and plan to hold more on the exchange's problems.


The calls to Sue Lunz's pottery supply company in Seattle started in the fall, after Maryland's site was repaired enough for people to begin navigating through it. As more people reached a page where a technical problem made it impossible to select a provider, they started calling the incorrect help-line number.

Lunz said her business continued to receive calls Saturday. She has not been contacted by Maryland officials, she said.

A state spokeswoman said Friday that officials would consider reimbursing Lunz for long-distance calls from Maryland.

"We were hoping something would change," Lunz said Saturday afternoon. When she received her first call of the day — a Maryland woman trying to sign up for health insurance — Lunz was able to give her the call center's correct number, 1-855-642-8572.

"She was so pleased," Lunz said. "It felt so good to give them the phone number."