Maryland's Obamacare glitches don't stick To Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown remains the heavy favorite to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary because the only thing that could have hurt him — his role as O'Malley administration "point man" for Obamacare in Maryland — won't hurt him. And it won't hurt him for a simple reason: the math.

Not enough Democratic voters were "inconvenienced" (and, therefore, outraged) by last year's health exchange problems. Most Marylanders already had insurance; they didn't have to go anywhere near the state's glitch-riddled online marketplace.

And those that did appear to have survived the trauma.

In Maryland, an estimated 800,000 people did not have health insurance as the Affordable Care Act rolled out last fall. Half of those people were ineligible for ACA benefits because they were undocumented residents.

So that means the state needed to get those 400,000 people into the ranks of the insured.

It also needed to get Marylanders who were underinsured — that is, with policies that did not meet ACA standards — up to speed.

According to the state's latest report, 343,000 Marylanders ended up obtaining health insurance during the first sign-up period, between October and April.

That means 343,000 Marylanders who had either no insurance or lousy insurance now have decent insurance, either through private plans or from Medicaid.

And that's despite all the problems with the website.

So last fall's rollout of Obamacare in Maryland might have been a debacle. It might have been a national embarrassment. It might have "inconvenienced" — that's what Brown calls it — a few thousand people.

But nowhere near enough people to make a difference in the 2014 primary.

And the recovery from the debacle — the mitigation of a disaster — doesn't seem to look that bad today.

Maryland had to junk its website, and the final cost of the project will likely be a lot higher than the original price.

But that stuff doesn't stick to Brown. At least not among Democrats.

He appears to be headed to a victory on June 24, according to The Baltimore Sun's latest poll.

The poll shows Brown holding a sizable, perhaps insurmountable, lead over his primary opponents, Doug Gansler and Heather Mizeur.

When asked about Brown's role in the botched rollout of Obamacare in Maryland, 58 percent of those in the survey said it had no effect on their opinion of the guy.

That's a lot of forgiveness.

Or a lot of don't-matter.

Or a lot of "Huh?"

The math of outrage is not there, despite all of Gansler's attempts to pin the debacle on Brown and make him look like an in-over-his-head executive.

So we might see the coronation that was predicted last year, before the health exchange mess splashed on Brown's shoes.

Clearly, more voters are bothered by Gansler's Google Problem — the widely-disseminated photograph of him at a teen party where there appeared to be underage drinking — than by any lack of diligence of Brown on the health exchange.

The effect of the teen party seems to be wearing off, but 36 percent of those in the Sun poll still said they were less likely to vote for Gansler because of it.

By contrast, only 27 percent said the health insurance exchange problems made them less likely to vote for Brown in the primary — up a couple of points since February, but obviously not enough to threaten his quest for the nomination.

Democrats generally like Obamacare, especially when it's called the Affordable Care Act. As time goes on and more people enroll, and more of the rest of us no longer get stuck with the bills for emergency room treatment of the uninsured, it's bound to become more popular.

But polls on the ACA are mixed, with a lot of Americans still saying it will hurt the country, or that it still needs to be improved. The national enrollment of 8 million people in health insurance plans does not seem to have impressed many Americans, according to a CNN poll in May; only 12 percent of Americans in that survey considered the law a success.

Republicans, of course, continue to carp about it and will call for its repeal all the way to November.

Which gets us to the larger question for Brown and the Democrats and Maryland's general election up ahead. The lieutenant governor might survive a primary of the party that supported the ACA, but he would face a stiffer challenge in the fall. A Republican opponent will surely continue the attacks on Obamacare and Brown's association with it.

Whoever gets the Democratic nomination should be concerned about one number from the Sun poll —- 84 percent of Republicans said Maryland was on the wrong track. That strikes me as far more than just the usual sour grapes of a party that is outnumbered 2-1 in a blue state.

That's a big, negative number indicative of repeated and effective messaging by conservatives on their problems with the O'Malley administration — increased taxes, fees and that thing called Obamacare.

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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