Craig offers to pay phone bill for exchange mistake

A gubernatorial hopeful has offered to pay the phone bills of the Seattle pottery store that fielded hundreds of wayward calls from people stuck in Maryland's broken health exchange.

After The Baltimore Sun reported that the state's insurance website erroneously listed the toll-free number of a West Coast specialty kiln business instead of the state call center, Republican David Craig said Monday he hopes to reimburse the business out of his personal checking account.

"The state should have taken the lead on this," said Craig, the Harford County executive. "Hopefully, it's a small amount. If it's a large amount, we'll hold a fundraiser."

Sue Lunz, owner of Seattle Pottery Supply, said Monday the long-distance calls from frustrated health insurance callers that began in October finally stopped over the weekend. Now she faces a new conundrum: Should she accept the offer to be reimbursed by a political candidate for the added costs on her 1-800 bill?

"When this started, I asked my husband whether I should keep track of our 1-800 bill, and he said, 'Nah, we'll never get the money back,' " Lunz said.

State officials reached out to Lunz last week to find out how much those mistaken calls cost, but she has yet to tally it up — and the state has yet to decide whether to reimburse her.

The glitch was repaired over the weekend, seven days after The Sun brought it to the state's attention, health exchange spokeswoman Dori Henry said Monday.

"We have been in touch with Ms. Lunz to apologize for the inconvenience, and to thank her for her patience and the kindness she has shown to callers from Maryland," Henry said in a statement. "Ms. Lunz could not estimate how much the wrong number may have cost her business, but she graciously accepted our apology."

Craig sent Lunz a letter Monday offering to pay the tab, along with his own apology on behalf of the state.

He said in an interview that a private business that had inconvenienced someone so badly would have found a way to make it up to Lunz. He said the offer was not a political stunt, but "it shows people that we do like to get things done."

Maryland's online insurance marketplace has had persistent technical problems since it launched Oct. 1. Lunz said she and her employees have spent hours on the phone consoling Maryland residents struggling to buy insurance, but she and her husband are not sure whether to accept a check in return.

"We like dark chocolate," Lunz said with a laugh. "We were thinking maybe they could send us some dark chocolate in the shape of the state of Maryland. But then we thought, maybe that won't be big enough, so maybe we'll take one in the shape of Texas?"

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