Contractor debugging state's health exchange website

Though the websites are different, the responses from state and federal officials have been largely the same.
The executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange and President Barack Obama have both echoed similar sentiments: They're pleased with the interest their health exchange website is garnering, yet dissatisfied with its performance to date.
The Maryland and federal health insurance marketplaces - which are aimed at making browsing health plans as easy as online shopping - have been plagued with glitches since their Oct. 1 launch, hindering potential enrollees from signing up online.
In response to these concerns, Maryland Health Connection's prime contractor, Noridian Healthcare Solutions, is conducting a number of changes. These include increasing the resources devoted to the project that will increase the information technology and project management support, add expertise in electronic data interface with insurance carriers and enhance user testing capacity, according to a statement released Tuesday by Maryland Health Benefit Exchange Executive Director Rebecca Pearce.
The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, the state's public corporation charged with implementing the Affordable Care Act's provisions, will also continue working with Noridian on other measures that could help support the project's success, according to Pearce.
"We are committed to the success of Maryland Health Connection and to fixing the technical problems," Pearce said in the release, adding that the nine-member Maryland Health Benefit Exchange board will meet in the coming days to address these matters.
There have been more than 308,000 unique visitors to the state's exchange, called Maryland Health Connection, and more than 33,300 calls to the call center, according to Maryland Health Benefit Exchange's weekly update released Oct. 25.
As of Oct. 23, almost 40,200 accounts have been created, and 3,186 have been enrolled in plans, coverage of which starts Jan. 1. The weekly update warned that the site's performance may be inconsistent, especially during hours of peak usage. Routine maintenance is being performed, which may make certain functions unavailable from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily.
A team within the nonprofit Healthy Howard, called Door to HealthCare, is charged with helping navigate Western Maryland residents - which includes Carroll, Allegany, Frederick, Garrett, Howard and Washington counties - through the state's exchange.
"We certainly understand the frustrations that folks are having with the website," said Eric Masten, Healthy Howard health policy, advocacy and communications director. "We're focusing on the fact that we're going to be providing support throughout the process."
So far, a total of about 450 applications have been started or completed in the Western Maryland region, according to Masten. Beforehand, the applications were mostly done on paper, but as of Monday afternoon, more than 100 electronic applications have been started or completed.
Officials are working around the clock to better the site, according to the update, and they anticipate user experience to improve substantially within the coming days and weeks, the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange Oct. 25 update states.
The federal site, healthcare.gov, has had its share of malfunctions, preventing residents of states that decided against creating their own exchange site from signing up for health plans.
President Barack Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and others closely involved with the health-care overhaul have come under fire for the exchange's less-than-smooth roll-out. This prompted the Republican-controlled House to hold hearings in committees beginning last week on the Obama administration's implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
The White House hired private consultants to help fix healthcare.gov's bugs.
"Even as we redouble our efforts to get the site working as well as it's supposed to," President Barack Obama said in the Rose Garden Oct. 21, "we're also redoubling our efforts to make sure you can still buy the same quality, affordable insurance plans available on the marketplace the old-fashioned way - offline, either over the phone or in person."

Recommended on Baltimore Sun