Politics & Policy

Maryland’s Circular Firing Squad

Martin O’Malley, his lieutenant governor, and the AG are all squabbling over Obamacare’s failures.

The state of Maryland has become a national test bed for every liberal public-policy experiment coming out of Washington, D.C. Democratic governor Martin O’Malley, a possible presidential candidate in 2016, and Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, who would like to succeed him, have concluded that their left flank must be protected in order to win their future primary elections.

Maryland thus rushes headlong into the Common Core education standards, punitive taxes to comply with EPA mandates, and proposals to raise the minimum wage.

#ad#Nowhere is this liberal zeal more apparent than when it comes to Obamacare. The lieutenant governor was named the O’Malley administration’s key point person in implementing the Affordable Care Act, and it was supposed to be the perfect setup for his being elected governor in next year’s election (while his term-limited boss lays the groundwork for a presidential run).

There is just one problem. As elsewhere, implementing the Affordable Care Act in Maryland has been a debacle. The lead contractors for developing the Maryland health-exchange website are suing each other, enrollment figures are lower than in other states that have run their own exchanges, and the governor’s administration was caught flat-footed when it was learned that 73,000 existing health-insurance policies had been canceled.

But it gets worse. Maryland’s small-business exchange, which is intended to give employers access to affordable plans for their employees, has been delayed twice and will be at least six months late. The fall-back option of enrolling people manually, with the assistance of so-called navigators, is a logistical nightmare, most notably because the paper forms do not match the electronic forms, requiring phone calls to collect the correct information.

And this is being highlighted not by the state’s rare Republicans but by another politically ambitious Democratic politician who would also like to be governor: Attorney General Doug Gansler. Earlier this month Gansler released an ad criticizing Brown. It focuses on Brown’s ridiculous attempt to spin 73,000 cancellation notices as “renewal notices,” shows him trying to explain that Maryland and a number of other states “stumbled out of the gate” in implementing the law, then compares that bogus claim with the progress seen in California, Connecticut, and Kentucky.

#page#Instead of finding solutions for the tens of thousands of uninsured consumers unable to purchase plans or for the 73,000 Marylanders losing their existing policies, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown are trading blows over the botched implementation.

Kentucky, which has three-fourths the population of Maryland, has enrolled over four times as many individuals in its exchange. California, Connecticut, and Washington are seeing enrollment rates much higher than Maryland’s.

#ad#Meanwhile, the attorney general is hardly blameless. In Maryland, the Office of the Attorney General is afforded broad independence and discretion to vigorously defend the interests of consumers. Its Division of Consumer Protection alone has 49 employees. And within that division is a unit, Health Education and Advocacy, that is supposed to help consumers identify enrollment opportunities for health-insurance coverage. If the attorney general was interested in helping people instead of attacking his opponent, he would be releasing statistics on how many have been assisted with the health-care mess. Yet the only publicly available information is the number of people who have contacted the office from 2011 and anecdotal examples of three successful outcomes with Obamacare.

Of more than 200 press releases issued by Gansler’s office since President Obama signed health reform into law in March 2010, only two refer to the Affordable Care Act at all. In a June 2012 release, Gansler congratulates himself on the quality of Maryland’s amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court prior to a decision in which the justices ultimately upheld key provisions of the law. The second release, dated November 18, 2013, when the state’s exchange was foundering, threatened insurers over ACA compliance and was issued as the Gansler campaign was finalizing plans to release the attack ad on Brown. Nowhere in the announcement is there a single word of advice to Marylanders about the law’s implementation, let alone a warning about the prospect of 73,000 cancellations.

Both candidates’ behavior suggests, to put it generously, tunnel vision, personal ambition, political calculation, inattention to duty, and lack of concern for the well-being of ordinary citizens. The silver lining: What better vindication of conservative principles than liberals’ blaming each other for the failure of their own policies?

— Richard J. Douglas has been a Maryland lawyer for more than two decades. He is also a veteran and served in Iraq. He can be reached at richdouglas (at) hotmail.com.

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