Maryland's Obamacare Exchange Launch Was Also a Disaster

marylandhealthconnection.gov/marylandhealthconnection.gov/The botched launch of Obamacare’s federal exchange system was front and center in the news for the last three months of 2013. All the attention paid to the federal system, which covered 36 states, distracted somewhat from the fact that several of the state-run exchanges were arguably even worse off.

One of those states was Maryland—which, funny enough, was repeatedly touted as an example of how Obamacare’s exchanges could work if state officials wanted them to work and were proactive about implementation. President Obama went to Maryland to deliver a big health care speech a few days before the October launch of the exchanges, praising Maryland’s elected officials for their efforts. The state was even given a $6.7 million “early innovator” grant by the federal government, which hoped that the Maryland exchange could serve as a model for other states.

But state and federal officials working on the exchanges had known for months that Maryland’s exchange build out had huge problems, according to a big Washington Post feature from this weekend on the state’s disastrous exchange development process.

According to the Post’s report, an outside audit from the consulting firm BerryDunn warned state officials in a late 2012 presentation that they were underprepared, and that there were big risks to the project. For example,  the report says, “no one could produce for BerryDunn standard project plans showing a timeline and checklist for how the main IT contractor…would get the job done.” Nor was there anyone in charge. Even after the state finally hired an exchange director to manage the project, BerryDunn continued to warn that the project lacked a clear plan and timeline for completion.

In June of 2013, the project team managed to cobble a basic system together in order to pass a basic test proving that their system could talk to the federal data hub. But two months later, when it came time to show the system could do more than that, the exchange crashed and burned, reports the Post:

On Aug. 26, five weeks before the launch date, Maryland faced its final major test with federal overseers, a more thorough demonstration of how each part of its system would work. This one did not go as well. When the test got to the part of having a fictitious person choose a health plan, the Web site crashed. It also could not fully send enrollment data to insurers or e-mail Marylanders when they successfully selected a plan — something it still cannot do.

A final prelaunch test the next month wasn’t much better:

… Testers filed their final report on Sept. 13, calling the last version of the software they could review “extremely unstable.” Internal testing of one aspect of the site found 449 defects, almost half of which would probably trouble the final release.

Not surprisingly, launch day was a mess:

More than 24 hours after the launch, there were just four people who had selected plans and eight more who appeared to have logged on.

An IT contractor wrote to state officials on Oct. 2 wondering if the four were “legitimate,” since contractors could not even access the site. She questioned if they might be fictitious accounts from prior phases of testing.

Maryland’s troubled experience trying to build its own exchange isn’t unique. Oregon, Minnesota, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Hawaii have all had (and in some cases still have) serious glitches with their exchanges, despite hundreds of millions in federal grants doled out to states building those systems. (Maryland alone got a total of $171 million from the federal government.) The widespread launch failures of so many exchanges, at both the federal and state levels, suggests that many of the problems were inherent in the basic conception of the exchanges, and that even if there had been near universal political support for implementation, failure was at least as likely as success. 

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    President Obama went to Maryland to deliver a big health care speech a few days before the October launch of the exchanges, praising Maryland’s elected officials for their efforts.

    He learned from the Nobel people that all you have to do is praise someone before the fact and everything turns out just right.

  • Tman||

    Well, he attempted to praise the individuals in question but they were on a paid vacation in Aruba and were not available.

  • ||

    Nobody could have predicted this. Nobody, I say.

  • JW||

    Of all the rotten, bad luck!

  • ||

    "Oh, the fools! Why didn't they build it with six thousand and one hulls? When will they learn?"

  • Bardas Phocas||

    Does this mean Martin O'Malley is out of the running for 2016 Prez?
    hahaha, of course not. Total failure is no disqualification to the highest office in the land.

  • Donut-san||

    As a Marylander, I find the prospect of a President O'Malley horrifying. I want to believe there's no way he could ever win, but it's getting harder to be certain.

  • thom||

    I'm not sure how anybody could stomach O'Malley. He's just as big a scumbag as Obama, but without the supposed inspirational speaking style, and he's just another white guy, so people won't feel driven to vote for him to help make history.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Clearly the Maryland Exchanges were underfunded.

  • NoVAHockey||

    I thought they'd mess up everything but the website. I was wrong. Of course they'd mess it all up.

  • some guy||

    Once they realized the policy was going to be a huge failure they guaranteed that the website would be an even larger, more visible failure. It's smokescreens of incompetence all the way down.

  • SpitzersBlackSocks||

    A liberal friend from Maryland and I were discussing the article yesterday, and he is absolutely convinced that all of Obamacare's problems are just a technological issue. To him, once they get the web sites up and running, that everything with Obamacare is going to be smooth sailing.

  • ||

    Hope springs eternal.

  • some guy||

    Hope and ignorance have many of the same symptoms.

  • Hopfiend||

    anything's possible if you don't know what the hell you're talking about.

  • ||

    Hope springs a leak.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    I wonder what the excuse will be after the web site is fix (as much as it's going to be fixed).

    Surely the blame will be shifted back to OBSTRUKSHUNEST RETHUGLIKKKANS!!!!1!!!

  • Ted S.||

    The disaster that is Maryland's exchange is obviously the fault of Republican wreckers.

  • JW||

    Both of them?

  • NoVAHockey||

    dammit. refresh then post.

  • NoVAHockey||

    yeah, those 4 dudes cumberland, md

  • ||

    This never would have happened if Selina Meyer was still their Senator.

  • Dweebston||

    Hahaaaaah!

    I've had a shitty start to my week, but now I'm falling over myself hysterical about this. I thought the delicious ACA news had evaporated after the new year rolled around and the mainstream made nary a peep over the fact that the administration had caused more disenrollment than new coverage, but obviously this thing is still gearing up.

    Delectable. More, please.

  • PapayaSF||

    "The ACA will give everyone insurance, save the average family $2500 a year, end junk policies with high deductibles, lower the deficit, and you'll be able to keep your plan and doctor if you like them."

    "HealthCare.gov is not working well only because it's so popular. Just give it a few weeks. The state exchange are fine."

    "OK, you can't keep your doctor or plan, but look at all the people the ACA is helping."

    "OK, it isn't lowering your premiums, but you're getting a better plan."

    "OK, your new plan has a very high deductible, but look at all the people the ACA is helping."

    "OK, some of the state exchanges have problems, but some are fine."

    "OK, some states are only signing up a few hundred people, but at least they are now covered."

    "OK, many people are getting Medicare instead, but at least they are now covered."

    "OK, so maybe everyone won't get covered at first."

    "OK, it won't lower the deficit, but it's a good idea anyway."

    It's like what Japanese civilians noticed in World War II: the government announces a steady stream of victories, each one closer and closer to the home islands....

  • Rich||

    Beautiful.

  • PapayaSF||

    Thanks. BTW, I meant "Medicaid" not "Medicare" above.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    It's like what Japanese civilians noticed in World War II: the government announces a steady stream of victories, each one closer and closer to the home islands....

    It's like Baghdad Bob lives in DC now.

  • PapayaSF||

    But hey, if moving goalposts counts as exercise, Obamacare is already making some people healthier!

  • Raston Bot||

    http://news.sky.com/story/1194.....lly-lifted

    Questions remain over how and why the leak occurred and whether the company which owns the tank, Freedom Industries, took too long to let officials know about the problem.

    Freedom Industries? great googily moogily.

  • ||

    Well, they're very upset, as you can understand.

  • Rich||

    An IT contractor wrote to state officials on Oct. 2 wondering if the four were “legitimate,” since contractors could not even access the site. She questioned if they might be fictitious accounts from prior phases of testing.

    Sheesh, Peter -- don't leave us in suspense! Were they fictitious or *not*?!

  • widget||

    This commercial was played locally several times during this weekend's football games.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yP77OktlKGk

    That and the new car commercials make it seem like we drive up and down highway 1 all day without a care in the world. Hell, we can even drive over someone's cattle ranch if that gives a better a glimpse of the Pacific ocean sunset. It's true. And the CA Coveredcare website actually works, last time I checked. The negativity at Reason grates on me sometimes. We hope, we do, we can!

  • R C Dean||

    And the CA Coveredcare website actually works, last time I checked.

    It can't be fully functional. Even if the payment function is working, and its accurately transmitting data to the insurance companies (which, I surmise both remain to be seen),

    its highly unlikely its fully functional on the back end, where it interfaces with all those federal databases. Because that kind of functionality simply does not exist anywhere, as far as I know. And that functionality is kinda important to the whole thing.

    Don't fall for the lowered expectations of "but it no longer crashes every hour" as meaning its working.

  • GILMORE||

    "We are seeing tremendous improvements in the overall system. Spontaneous Fires have been reduced by 63% in only 3 months. And we've almost gotten to the bottom of how the website is managing to transmit HIV. All Convicted Rapists have been moved from positions as 'Navigators' and are now being repurposed.... let's see here.... something to do with Day Care....well, that's not important: What's important is that millions of Americans can now pay penalties to the Government. We believe the law can only become more popular going forward."

  • RishJoMo||

    lol, the rich get richer....

    www.Planet-Anon.tk

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