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Maryland health exchange final tab still unclear

How many millions did the new health exchange website cost?

The Maryland health exchange debuts its new online marketplace this weekend, and officials say they expect it to run more smoothly this time.

The revamped website comes at a cost, but tabulating the price tag to build and run both the old and new website isn't so easy.

The exchange board voted to ditch its original faulty technology, which caused widespread problems during the first open enrollment period, and adopt code written for the more successful Connecticut site. Deloitte Consulting LLP was given a $41 million contract to retrofit that code for Maryland.

But Deloitte was also given contracts this year worth nearly $19 million more for software, licenses, leases and something called fit gap analysis.

A broader look at procurement by the exchange since 2011, disclosed on the exchange website, shows some $355 million in contracts to dozens of companies for development, hosting, licenses, rent, training and other items. Weber Shandwick, for example, was given a $3.55 million contract for marketing and another $446,801 for social media this year.

But it's not known how much of this money — most of it from the federal government — has been spent. Some contracts include terms such as "not to exceed" an amount. Many contracts have been altered to add or reduce work. Some early changes were approved in closed board meetings, and others were made on an emergency basis without an extended public bidding process.

Many of the contracts run for several years.

Officials also say there will be significant savings from running the state's Medicaid program more efficiently through the exchange. And licenses associated with the new code are less expensive going forward.

Further, the overall reform is expected to benefit the economy and create savings over time for the health care system, and indirectly all consumers, because more people are insured and not leaving unpaid bills behind.

Some money also may be taken back from the original prime contractor, which the exchange says produced a faulty product. Noridian Healthcare Solutions disagrees and does not plan to repay the $73 million it got from its $193 million contract before the exchange cut ties to the firm.

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, state health secretary and board chairman, said as the state moves through its normal budgeting process, there will be a full accounting of what's been spent.

Meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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