ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland is opening its newly designed health exchange website this weekend, but only for people to shop around for insurance plans as the state aims to bounce back from last year’s bedeviling computer problems.
The state is taking a more cautious approach after its website crashed on opening day of the first enrollment period last year and had to be revamped with technology from Connecticut at a cost of at least $41 million.
Consumers won’t be able to actually enroll in a health care plan on the new website on their own until Nov. 19. The gradual rollout over 10 days aims to avoid high-volume website traffic all at once, so the state will be better able fix any potential computer problems that arise.
“You ramp up slowly so that any glitches that emerge can be addressed more expeditiously and quickly,” said Carolyn Quattrocki, executive director of the state’s health care exchange.
The website is scheduled to open Sunday for people to learn about available plans. They also should be able to get an estimate of financial assistance and start comparing their health insurance options without having to enter personal information.
Quattrocki said the website has been put through a variety of tests.
“We are very confident that it’s going to be a much easier experience and will work really well for consumers,” she said.
The second open enrollment period under President Barack Obama’s plan in other states begins Nov. 15. Maryland will hold the first of about 25 sign-up events on that day, when people can get in-person help enrolling. That’s more than four times the number of fairs that were held in the last sign-up period.
Residents who enrolled in the first sign-up period are being encouraged to enroll again. There are two main reasons. First, more plans are being offered, and previous enrollees are encouraged to look again for a better plan. Second, people who receive a subsidy for their insurance need to get a new determination about the subsidy they are qualified to receive. People who are enrolled but don’t re-enroll will still receive coverage, but people who receive subsidies and don’t re-enroll will need to wait to get a tax credit, instead of receiving it monthly.
“We want to make sure that everyone is getting the right amount of financial assistance,” Quattrocki said.
On Nov. 16, the state’s call center will open to take applications. On the day after that, all authorized insurance brokers and navigators will be able to complete enrollments through the website and provide in-person consumer assistance. On Nov. 18, caseworkers at local health and social services departments will begin enrolling people through the website.
As of this week, 82,525 individuals have enrolled in private qualified health plans through the exchange. The state initially planned to enroll 150,000 in private plans in the first enrollment period. The state says 381,404 have gained Medicaid coverage. That includes 95,889 Primary Adult Care Program enrollees who were automatically converted to full Medicaid coverage as of Oct. 20.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)