June 2 2014

Maryland ObamaCare Website: Take 2

Patrice J. Lee

It’s take two for Maryland, which is finalizing plans to rebuild its failed healthcare enrollment exchange website. The tab for this new website is expected to be $40 - $50 million but may climb to $60 million.

Maryland lays claim to the honor of being one of several states with failed ObamaCare websites. The site, which launched on October 1st despite knowledge that it was unstable, along with the federal government’s website healthcare.gov succumbed to failure immediately and was out of operation for a couple of months. It took two months to fix the biggest problems and the website still never worked as expected.

The president put more competent companies in charge of healthcare.gov and got it up and running, but its ugly stepsister across the state border languished.

When not finger pointing, Maryland officials have been scrambling to clear the egg from their faces by finding a new plan to rehabilitate their ailing website. The cost so far has been over $65 million. Now, they are looking to spend tens of millions more federal taxpayer dollars in hopes of success.

We aren’t optimistic.

The Washington Post reports:

Maryland officials say they are close to finalizing a plan for paying to rebuild the state’s troubled online health insurance marketplace, a project that’s expected to cost $40 million to $50 million.

The state plans to use leftover federal grants from the construction of the first exchange plus funding from Medicaid, said Joshua M. Sharfstein, Maryland’s top health official and chairman of the exchange board. Maryland will not request any additional grant money, he said at a board meeting Friday evening.

The first exchange cost at least $129 million to build and operate, with the federal government picking up nearly all of the bill. About $90 million of that went toward technology-related costs. That Web site was so unstable and glitch-ridden that officials decided it would be cheaper and faster to rebuild it than to continue fixing the site.

On April 1, Maryland hired Deloitte Consulting to rebuild the system using software from Connecticut. State officials say they expect to spend $40 million to $50 million on the rebuild, although consultants have said the cost could go as high as $60 million.

Well, there go our hopes of the federal government’s recovering unused funds from its original grant to Maryland. That was a hopeful option, but we shouldn’t be surprised that state officials would do everything and anything to hold onto those taxpayer dollars.

What is the likelihood that the next website will fare any better than the previous one? Maryland’s governor and officials think they have a plan. According to the Washington Post, they have borrowed the blueprint from Connecticut’s website, Access Health CT, and plan to mimic it. Connecticut turned out to be the unexpected star among states actually able to build a healthcare website.

Maryland blamed the companies they hired for the job, but Connecticut says it takes more than just good consultants. For them, a business philosophy inspired how they planned and executed; they operated more like “a tech start-up than a government agency.” For example, they hired managers from the corporate world, their staff members viewed their federal grants as “venture capital,” they designed their site to function like a travel-booking site, and they set up enrollment fairs modeled after Apple stores.

Taxpayers can hope that Maryland will get its act together and not squander any more tax dollars on a failed project. If the next website launches and crashes this fall, it will be a case of ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Maryland officials will come off as foolish but the shame will be on all of us taxpayers and the dollars we squandered away.

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