Lt. Gov. Brown Takes Heat on Obamacare, By Barry Rascovar

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Let’s face it: Maryland dropped the ball on implementing Obamacare. To date  the rollout has been a failure. Thirty-seven hundred sign-ups since October 1.  That’s pathetic.

Who bears ultimate responsibility?

Let’s start at the top with Gov. Martin O’Malley and his designated point man  on the healthcare rollout, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. Ever since 2010, Brown  has promoted his leadership role in the Obamacare implementation.

The lieutenant governor co-chairs the Health Care Reform Coordinating Council  responsible for spending $173 million in federal funds on an internet signup  website.

Until recently, he’s been quick to take credit for this initiative’s  potential to extend health care to more of the state’s 800,000  uninsured.Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 2.45.57 PM

Missing in action?

Yet when the Maryland Healthcare Connection computer system froze, the  lieutenant governor was nowhere to be found.  Emails released to the  Baltimore Sun confirm Brown was a no-show in keeping on top of this vitally  important state technology program.

When Maryland’s connector system crashed and continued malfunctioning,  Brown let others take the heat.

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing to discuss systemic problems plaguing  the state’s botched website, Brown was absent. Instead, it was Health Secretary  Josh Sharfstein who had to admit there’s no telling when the state’s website  will be glitch-free.

It was Sharfstein, not Brown, who had to admit there’s nothing the state can  do to help people who are losing their healthcare benefits through no fault of  their own.

A similar scenario played out before a House committee in Annapolis.  Brown remained AWOL.

Then on Wednesday, WBAL-TV’s ace reporter Jayne Miller tracked down Brown and  asked about his responsibility for the health care signup mess. She got an  aggressive brush-off from a man who sounded offended that his leadership was  being questioned.

Brown  caught a break Friday when Rebecca Pearce, executive director of the troubled  health exchange, resigned after O’Malley sent in his staff to oversee  the crippled IT operation.

Pearce is a scapegoat

Now Brown has a scapegoat. Yet he’s having increasing difficulty responding  to criticisms that he was too busy campaigning to bother with the nitty-gritty  of this IT implementation.

He’s promised to address all this at a carefully scripted and rehearsed press  conference sometime this week — if he can fit it into his busy campaign  schedule.

Brown’s campaign advertises that he is a proven leader. His websites brag  about his role in bringing to fruition the Affordable Care Act. He’s gotten a  national award for it.

But he doesn’t have any answer to why he was asleep at the switch, why he  wasn’t on top of this exceedingly complex IT operation that cried out for  strong, forceful leadership from someone like Brown with a military  background.Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 2.46.14 PM

Affecting the campaign for governor

This is already a central point in the campaign for governor. Attorney  General Doug Gansler accused Brown on Thursday of “ducking responsibility”  for the problem — an apt summation of the current situation.

That same day, Brown conceded, “Everyone that has been involved. . . is  responsible and that includes me.” What’s a great way to minimize your own  culpability. It won’t fly in the hothouse arena of a gubernatorial campaign.

Brown may be the general in charge of this operation, but he seems eager  to have his lieutenants take the grief for a botched mission.

Questions, questions, questions

Where was he when feuding contractors were at war with one another in  developing the IT system? Why wasn’t he doing something to remove bureaucratic  barriers imposed by Washington that constantly gummed up the IT system?

Was he aware that the system hadn’t undergone comprehensive testing? How come  he didn’t know the state’s IT program was messed up until after it crashed?

Was he a leader in name only?

Slow fix hurts Brown

Brown’s dilemma is that Democrats pick their nominee for governor in late  June. That may not be enough time to fully fix this technology disaster. Giant  back-end headaches could emerge even as front-end computer glitches are  resolved.

Insurance companies may announce large, unexpected losses as a result of the  government’s incompetence. Tens of thousands of Marylanders may continue to  experience enrollment failures or wind up uninsured because of flaws in the  computer software.

Confusion and screw-ups will probably persist.Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 2.46.26 PM

Legislative hearings during the upcoming General Assembly session could prove  intensely embarrassing.

This has been, to date, an epic implementation fiasco. If public anger builds  rather than dissipates, there will be political consequences, especially in a  state like Maryland with its early primary elections next year.

Barry Rascovar’s columns can also be viewed at www.politicalmaryland.com 

By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

 

 

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