More than a year before Maryland launched its health insurance exchange, senior state officials failed to heed warnings that no one was ultimately accountable for the $170 million project and that the state lacked a plausible plan for how it would be ready by Oct. 1.
Over the following months, as political leaders continued to proclaim that the state’s exchange would be a national model, the system went through three different project managers, the feuding between contractors hired to build the online exchange devolved into lawsuits, and key people quit, including a top information technology official because, as he would later say, the project “was a disaster waiting to happen.”
The repeated warnings culminated days before the launch, with one from contractors testing the Web site that said it was “extremely unstable” and another from an outside consultant that urged state officials not to let residents enroll in health plans because there was “no clear picture” of what would happen when the exchange would turn on.
Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), the highest-ranking elected official charged with implementing the law, was invited to speak across the country about the state’s early success. The Obama administration began depositing tens of millions of dollars in state accounts to pay for development, thinking Maryland’s exchange might be built so early that other states could copy it.
But out of public view, reports of trouble started arriving.
Late in 2012, the consultant’s reports focused increasingly on warnings that no one seemed to be in charge. Maryland Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein; Human Resources Secretary Ted Dallas, the Cabinet member in charge of Medicaid; and Rebecca Pearce, the exchange leader, tried to make decisions together. It was a “three-headed-monster. . . . The next meeting could overrule the last. It was classic, you know, nothing was moving,” said one official who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Within the exchange, Pearce, who had been lured away from a top job at Kaiser Permanente to run the system, was jostling with her own project manager for day-to-day control. Sunny Raheja was a state contractor who preceded Pearce on the exchange and would go to Sharfstein for decisions, according to documents as well as exchange officials who witnessed the dysfunction.
The success of the exchange was also becoming freighted with political implications as Brown launched his campaign for governor. In an early-morning e-mail on Sept. 23, Sharfstein wrote to Pearce, under a subject line “from today’s [Baltimore] Sun.”
He pasted in a line from U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s endorsement of the lieutenant governor the day before: “While we’re fighting to save Obamacare, we know that in Maryland we have a health exchange that’s ready to go because of Anthony Brown,” the Maryland Democrat said.
Be sure to read the entire WaPo timeline of events to see how disatrous things really were prior to the problem-filled launch of the websote.
Quinton is a native South Carolinian who has lived in Baltimore since 2006. He is a recent convert to the Catholic Church and is active in the Knights of Columbus. He has been involved in the pro-life movement nationally and locally since 2010.
Quinton is a veteran who served as an intelligence analyst in the Army National Guard. He is also an Eagle Scout.