BALTIMORE (AP) — Sen. Barbara Mikulski said Friday that Maryland should “stay the course” with its own health care exchange, despite its troubled start, and not switch to the federal exchange.

Mikulski, a Democrat, spoke about the exchange after a news conference about an agreement between Maryland and the federal government to modernize the state’s unique rate-setting system for hospital services. Maryland Rep. John Delaney, a Democrat, has suggested the state consider moving to the federal exchange, because of computer problems that Maryland continues to experience.

Mikulski, however, said while she shared Delaney’s frustration with the rocky start, she is confident Maryland is making significant progress.

“I think Maryland is really getting its act together,” Mikulski said. “It is on the right track. The federal exchange is a work in progress, so to move from one system that’s had a creaky start to another system that’s had a creaky start I don’t think is advantageous to Maryland.”

The exchange says 20,358 people have enrolled in qualified private health plans as of Jan. 4. The state says many more people have enrolled through Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul. The state says as many as 162,000 people are on track for coverage. Gov. Martin O’Malley has said the state hopes to enroll 260,000 people by March 31, the end of the enrollment period.

Meanwhile, Maryland’s exchange announced Friday it has hired 70 more people to help with its call center to help get people enrolled. Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the state’s health secretary, said the cost of the new hires will be about $4 million, which will be paid for with a combination of state and federal funding.

“We realize it’s been very frustrating for people who have been calling, and we think this is necessary to be able to meet the demands that are out there,” Sharfstein said.

Sharfstein said as parts of the computer system have improved and there are fixes for people who have had trouble along the way, the state has put some technical employees in the call center to help so they can address issues with passwords or accounts that have locked up.

“Part of the challenge here is not just getting more people to the call center but improving what people who are working at the call center can do,” Sharfstein said.

Meanwhile, Maryland lawmakers will consider emergency legislation on Tuesday to help people who tried to get enrolled through the exchange but could not through no fault of their own. The measure would insure them through the Maryland Health Insurance Program, a separate safety net plan that has served as a high-risk pool for state residents without insurance. It would cover people retroactively to Jan. 1. State officials have estimated between a few hundred and 5,000 people could be affected by the legislation.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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