By Barry Rascovar
How high will it go? How much more will it cost the O’Malley-Brown administration to fix or totally replace the dysfunctional online health insurance system that it bragged about until the software crashed on Day One?
It already is the most costly debacle in state history.
None of the state’s options are appetizing. Meanwhile, problems keep mounting, the latest being $30 million in extra taxpayer expenses due to the Internet computer software’s inability to identify recipients no longer eligible for free Medicaid insurance.
Just fixing this deeply flawed software will cost untold tens of millions of dollars. Moving to a new, proven system used in another state could send new spending into the stratosphere. Converting to the federal system has heavy costs as well as severe limitations and the potential for more breakdowns.
“It seems like we’re shooting in the dark,” said an exasperated Del. Addie Eckardt, an Eastern Shore Republican at a hearing last week. She’s right.
State officials have been frantically scrambling ever since the administration’s highly touted online system froze and refused to work as promised on Oct. 1.
Officials are still grasping for straws, hoping the new prime contractor can make lemonade out of this lemon of an IT jalopy.
As for the next step once insurance enrollment closes on March 31, it’s another shot in the dark. Whatever the choice, it will be very expensive.
But will it work? There’s no guarantee that it will.
What a mess.
Looming loss of federal fnds
Complicating matters is the looming end of federal largesse. Come 2015, the state is supposed to foot the entire bill for its health insurance exchange.
Maryland has expended $182 million in federal funds with little to show for it. How much the state will be on the hook after Jan. 1 is another unknown, but we do know it will no longer by Martin O’Malley’s problem.
What a distasteful present he’s leaving on his successor’s desk.
It’s baffling that no one running the administration is insisting on an immediate and thorough investigation of this historic screw-up. This won’t be viewed favorably by future historians.
Not only is accountability lacking but the O’Malley-Brown administration is running away from this question as fast as it can.
Where’s Anthony Brown?
Note that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the widely promoted point man on healthcare reform, continues to be missing in action. Yet he owes the Maryland public a full and frank explanation of his central role in this debacle.
How this affects Brown’s candidacy for governor remains of pivotal importance.
Does his “deer caught in headlights” performance disqualify him from serious consideration?
Is this the type of evasiveness on vital issues we can expect from him if he’s elected governor?
Do we want a governor who takes cover when controversies rage and lets underlings take the heat for him?
As Desi Arnaz famously said to Lucy, Brown has got “some ‘splainin’ to do.”
More sinkholes ahead?
Meanwhile, legislative committees continue to treat this disgraceful public embarrassment with kid gloves. History will not look kindly on their performance, either.
Digging out of this enormous sinkhole hasn’t been easy. The road ahead looks susceptible to similar perils.
What’s lacking is responsible, accountable leadership. That could become a dominant bone of contention as the June 24 primary approaches.
Read other columns by Barry Rascovar at www.politicalmaryland.com