For faulty state exchanges, big decisions loom about healthcare law

President Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, speaks to reporters in the Rose Garden of the White House on Tuesday. The president said more than 7 million people signed up under the Affordable Care Act for healthcare insurance.
(Carolyn Kaster / AP)

Although the Obama administration appears to have surpassed its goal of enrolling more than 7 million people in the new healthcare program this year, some of the states that have struggled with technology problems are headed into an intensive new phase of fixes as they try to shepherd final enrollees through the process.

After spending $125.5 million to operate and run its exchange, which has struggled with technical glitches, the board of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange is expected to vote Tuesday on moving to Connecticut’s technology platform, which has worked smoothly throughout the enrollment period.

Oregon’s Gov. John Kitzhaber has assembled a team of technology experts to advise on the options for its dysfunctional website after the state parted ways with Oracle Corp., its main website builder, and saw a series of staff departures from Cover Oregon, the state exchange. The state’s attorney general is looking at “the full range of legal avenues and options to protect the public’s investment,” Kitzhaber said, and he has asked the federal Government Accountability Office to provide a “thorough appraisal of the quality of the work done by our technical vendors.”


Massachusetts state officials expect to make a decision on what to do with their faulty system by April 18. Lawmakers in Hawaii, where the state has struggled with meager enrollment, are considering assessing a “sustainability fee” on medical and dental plans sold in the state to pay for the $15 million that the state’s exchange will need to operate beginning in 2015.

The technical difficulties in five of the 14 states that created their own exchanges will be discussed on Capitol Hill on Thursday at a joint subcommittee meeting of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee. Witnesses will include the current and interim heads of the exchanges in Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oregon.

As a counterpoint, Peter Lee, the executive director of Covered California, will testify about California’s exchange, which has succeeded in enrolling some 1.2 million people, more than any other state in the country.

Because of high demand in the final days of enrollment, as well as some technical issues, several states have extended the timeline for consumers to enroll. Oregonians, for example, have until April 30to sign up for private plans.

In Massachusetts, where state officials recently split with the main contractor, CGI Group Inc., residents will have until mid-April to sign up. In the meantime, officials have temporarily moved more than 125,000 new applicants into Medicaid because they could not complete the process of signing up for a plan.

Facing surging demand and long lines for assistance on Monday, California also agreed to give consumers until April 15 to enroll in coverage.

Twitter: @MaeveReston