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Opening Day For State’s Health Insurance Exchange

Update October 1 at 1:49pm: Maryland Health Connection is up but slow. To the right is a tweet sent at about 12:55pm Tuesday.

Update October 1 at 9:14am: Maryland Health Connection announced a delay of about 4 hours in its site readiness, due to connectivity issues.

In a debut more than three years in the making, open enrollment begins today for Maryland’s new online insurance exchange created under the federal health care reform law.

Uninsured individuals and families can now go to to sign up for Medicaid or private health insurance. And as long as you enroll by December 18th, your coverage will begin January 1st. Uninsured individuals who don’t sign up may face a penalty in their 2014 taxes.

At a media preview of the web portal on Monday, the Executive Director of Maryland’s exchange, Rebecca Pearce, trumpeted its capabilities. “When you go into the plan, shopping, it’ll bring up all the plans that you have to choose from,” she said. “You can compare the plans, look at the detail behind them, what the premium is, what the deductible is, what the co-pays look like.” Pearce said that they anticipate a large number of visits to the portal on Tuesday, but not necessarily a large number of insurance purchases, judging by the experience with Medicare Part D in the mid-2000’s.

The state also announced a partner site that lets people find out which insurance their doctor accepts. Maryland Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein would not explicitly define what a successful first day would look like, but Pearce made assurances that a federal government shutdown would not affect the exchange. Individuals seeking one-on-one help can phone the state’s call center, visit their local health department or department of social services, or work with one of about 1,200 certified brokers in the state.

A second online exchange for small business will open on January 1st.