More than 289,000 people signed up for health insurance coverage through Maryland Health Connection between Nov. 15 and Feb. 28. Nearly 123,000 people selected private health insurance, while more than 166,000 qualified for Medicaid. Of those purchasing private insurance, 88 percent qualified for premium subsidies. As during the 2014 open enrollment period, CareFirst dominated the market. Nearly 96,000 consumers enrolled with CareFirst, and about 18,600 enrolled with Kaiser. The balance of enrollees was shared by four additional carriers.
A special enrollment period runs from March 15 to April 30 for tax filers who were previously unaware of the tax penalty for being uninsured.
Enrollment for Medicaid is open year-round.
2015 plans and premiums
For 2015, eight carriers are offering individual policies through Maryland Health Connection, with a total of 61 plans available (an increase from 45 in 2014).
A study issued by the Commonwealth Fund shows that, on average, premiums in Maryland were unchanged from 2014 to 2015. The analysis was weighted to take into account the differences in rates in urban/suburban/rural areas and insurer participation.
Small business exchange
Maryland launched its Small Business Health Options (SHOP) exchange in April 2014. More than 90 plans from 11 insurers were available for the 2014 plan year. For the 2015 plan year, 11 insurers are offering 110 health plans through the SHOP.
Employers can select from two “choice” options:
- In the Employer Choice Option, the employer picks one insurance company on the SHOP, and employees can choose any plan offered by that insurer.
- In the Employee Choice Option, the employer picks the metal level that will be open to employees. Employees can then choose a plan at that metal level from any insurer on the exchange.
Difficulties in 2014
Severe technical problems plagued the Maryland Health Connection website in 2014. Some consumers who were unable to sign up for private insurance were temporarily enrolled in the state’s high-risk insurance program, at the state’s expense. Problems with determining who qualifies for Medicaid means the state may make about $20 million in unnecessary payments over two years. Maryland fired its prime contractor, Noridian Healthcare Solutions, and hired Deloitte Consulting to adapt Connecticut’s successful technology for use by Maryland. Consultants put the cost of rebuilding the Maryland Health Connection website at up to $60 million. Officials are still evaluating legal action to recover some of the money paid to Noridian.
Maryland Health Connection was criticized for its lack of transparency. News outlets informally complained about inadequate disclosure of website problems, and the Kent County News filed a formal complaint with the state’s Open Meetings Compliance Board. Industry experts, state and federal legislators, and the state comptroller all questioned the mostly closed-door meetings during which exchange officials decided to rebuild the state’s website rather than transition to the federal site.
In addition, the Maryland Health Benefit exchange, which oversees the marketplace, repeatedly delayed the launch of the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP). Work on the SHOP website was put on hold in February 2014, and the launch date pushed back.
Overhaul leads to dramatic improvement
After 2014 open enrollment ended, Maryland Health Connection underwent an extensive overhaul. The exchange abandoned its old website technology and replaced it with Connecticut’s proven system, fired contractors, implemented new call center technology, and implemented a staggered launch to the second open enrollment period. The overhaul cost about $40 million according to the Washington Post.
On top of the technological improvements, Maryland Health Connection used a staggered start to limit traffic in the first several days of 2015 open enrollment. Consumers were able to browse plans anonymously starting on Nov. 9. This is a major improvement over last year, when consumers were unable to browse plans until after they had created an account with the exchange. Consumers could sign up for coverage at enrollment fairs beginning on Nov. 15 and through the call center on Nov. 16. Several more days of increasing access were planned. However, with the site running smoothly, the exchange was opened to all users two days earlier than planned.
The site has operated smoothly throughout the 2015 open enrollment period.
2014 enrollment recap
Despite all of the problems in 2014, Maryland exceeded its enrollment goal of 260,000. During the six-month open enrollment period, 63,002 people enrolled in private insurance and 232,075 people enrolled in Medicaid. Through September 2014, enrollment grew to more than 458,000 people: 81,553 in private health plans and another 376,850 in Medicaid.
Six insurers offered 45 individual plans through Maryland Health Connection for the 2014 plan year. The vast majority of those who enrolled in QHPs selected plans offered by one of the three CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield companies that participated in the marketplace. The CareFirst options captured nearly 94 percent of 2014 enrollees, followed distantly by Kasier with about 5 percent, Evergreen Health Cooperative with 0.7 percent, and All Savers (part of UnitedHealthcare) with 0.4 percent.
According to a Gallup-Healthways poll, Maryland’s uninsured rate dropped from 12.9 percent in 2013 to 7.8 percent in 2014.
Maryland Health Connection History
Maryland was an early adopter of the health insurance marketplace envisioned by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While many other states waited to see the outcome of the Supreme Court challenge to the ACA, Maryland moved ahead. The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange (MHBE) was signed into law in April 2011, with additional legislation passed in May 2012. The MHBE was later rebranded as the Maryland Health Connection. In December 2012, the Maryland Health Connection was among the first six state-based exchanges to be approved by the federal government.
Maryland Health Connection is overseen by a nine-member board. In June 2014, Carolyn Quattrocki was named to a one-year term as executive director of the board. She began serving in that role on an interim basis in December 2013 following the resignation of Rebecca Pearce.
Maryland Health Connection functions as a clearinghouse, meaning any QHP can sell policies on the exchange. Any health plan with significant market share in the state is required to participate in the marketplace. After two years of operation, the exchange has the option to adopt an active purchaser model. Health plans are limited to selling four benefit packages per metal level (platinum, gold, silver, and bronze).
Maryland health insurance exchange links
Maryland Health Connection
Maryland Health Benefit Exchange (MHBE)
Information about exchange planning and development
State Exchange Profile: Maryland
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation overview of Maryland’s progress toward creating a state health insurance exchange.
Health Education and Advocacy Unit, Office of the Attorney General
Serves residents and other consumers who receive health care from a Maryland health care provider or health insurance provider.