By Megan Brockett
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown told members of the General Assembly on Tuesday that the numerous updates and reports he received as overseer of Maryland’s health care reform failed to alert him to the major glitches that would mark the Oct. 1 launch of the state’s health care exchange website.
Brown, who had touted the state’s early progress in health care legislation following the passage of the Affordable Care Act, testified before both the House Health and Government Operations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee in support of emergency health care legislation that would retroactively benefit residents who were kept from signing up for coverage due to site malfunctions.
“On Oct. 1 and the weeks following the launch, I was deeply disappointed and frustrated [that] the exchange was significantly underperforming … for thousands of Maryland families who need coverage, who expected coverage and relied on us to deliver through the exchange,” Brown told delegates.
The lieutenant governor said that while he was aware of the general risks involved, the reports he had regularly received during the creation of the exchange program all pointed to an achievable launch date of Oct. 1.
“In retrospect, if I knew nine months ago what I’ve learned since the launch, I would have insisted on receiving the underlying documentation,” he said.
Brown, who is one of two leading Democratic frontrunners in the race for governor, has received criticism for his role in the botched rollout from a wide range of sources, including fellow Democrats who supported the legislation.
But perhaps the strongest criticism has come from his gubernatorial opponents, including Attorney General Doug Gansler, a fellow Democrat who has called on Brown repeatedly for answers.
While Brown said that responsibility for the health care exchange’s rocky start falls upon everyone involved in the exchange, including himself, he sidestepped a request for an apology from Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, during Tuesday’s hearing and insisted instead on moving forward.
“I think what [the people of Maryland] deserve is our best effort,” Brown said, in response to Kittleman’s question of whether he believed Maryland residents deserved an apology for the early exchange failures. “I think what they deserve now is for us to do everything we can to ensure that they’re getting the coverage that they need."
Del. Ron George, R-Anne Arundel, who is also running for governor, said in an interview that Brown should have done more beforehand to ensure the launch would go smoothly or postponed the deadline if more time was necessary.
“I think he has to accept the blame totally,” George said. “Because anybody else would have tried … to see [the site] three or four weeks beforehand and make sure it was going to work and was able to carry the load. He was detached from it.
“To me he was responsible for it in name only, and I don’t appreciate that. … There’s no one to hold accountable when you’re responsible in name only, and then you say you were kept in the dark -- to me that’s wrong. That’s not leadership."
Brown said that while more work remains, a great deal of progress has been made on the site since the launch, and he lauded the morning’s announcement that all four carriers involved in the exchanged have agreed to provide retroactive coverage to residents who tried but were unable to enroll by the Jan. 1 deadline.