Maryland Obamacare exchange splurging on ads while tech problems linger

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While Maryland’s Obamacare exchange has been struggling to get past crashes, glitches and faulty files, the state has continued spending millions on marketing.

Republican gubernatorial hopeful David Craig faults incumbent Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov Anthony Brown, who is now running in the Democratic primary for the top job, for allowing millions in taxpayer funding to be spent advertising an insurance exchange that isn’t working.

“Up to $150 million is going towards promoting a failing exchange, and throwing good money after bad needs to end now,” Craig said in a statement. “The task before us is how to mitigate this situation so people can get health care, because Maryland citizens are still having trouble with the website.”

Maryland’s exchange has been labeled one of the country’s worst, with dramatically lower enrollment than was expected and tech problems comparable to lambasted federal site

Approximately 18,257 Marylanders have enrolled in coverage via the exchange — just 12 percent of the expected 150,000 consumers state officials believed would flock to the site.

Maryland’s exchange suffered a crash on day one, followed by error messages, account problems and faulty data sent to insurers. To top it off, Exchange Director Rebecca Pearce was forced to resign in December after an uproar over vacationing in the Cayman Islands while the website floundered.

But the advertising hasn’t suffered. While the exchange itself comes in at $107 million, the advertising budget is currently soaring at $123 million in federal grants and another $24 million boost from the state of Maryland, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Craig’s campaign manager, Jim Pettit, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that promoting an insufficient site may defeat the real purpose of health-care reform.

“The goal is supposed to be to sign people up for health insurance,” Pettit told TheDCNF. “The goal is not supposed to be to market a website — or to force people to use a system that’s not working.”

Maryland isn’t the only state that has held onto ad campaign funds for Obamacare exchanges while the sites themselves were unworkable. Oregon’s folk-themed ad campaign was put on hold just before Christmas Eve — a whole month after former Director Rocky King admitted the website’s enrollment features wouldn’t launch before January at all. (RELATED: Oregon Obamacare exchange pulls expensive hipster ads)

Vermont, a unique exchange that’s transitioning to a state single-payer system, has been given $9 million in federal funding for advertisements. But just 22,600 Vermont residents have selected a plan on the exchange, which has been subject to a host of its own technical problems, including a glitch which prevented customers from paying for their own plans.

To date, federal and state governments are doling out millions on Obamacare advertising.

Four of 14 state exchanges have halted payments to exchange contractors, and another four have dropped their original directors.

In Maryland, the exchange’s troubles have reached such a high that even several Democratic congressmen have pushed state officials to use instead of the state website’s while fixes are made.

Democratic Rep. John Delaney wrote Monday to Maryland Secretary of Health Dr. Joshua Sharfstein requesting an assessment of what it would take to switch to the federal insurance exchange.

“We have fallen quite far behind the national average and we’re running out of time,” Delaney wrote.

Pettit emphasized to TheDCNF that Maryland is “woefully behind” getting coverage for its uninsured population, and advertising the broken site is hurting consumers that could seek coverage elsewhere.

“It’s an enormous amount of money — taxpayer money — that Maryland is spending to brand and market this website,” Pettit concluded. “For them to continue to market the website the way they are when everyone knows there are systemic problems with it is simply foolish.”

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