Maryland to allow "window shopping" a week BEFORE open enrollment begins, phasing in QHPs gradually

Hat Tip To: 
Alison Walker

Like some other states, Maryland has made some poor decisions when it came to setting up their ACA exchange last year, necessitating scrapping the original platform and replacing it with a customized version of Connecticut's much better system. While it remains to be seen how well the 2nd attempt will function, this is a very smart move on their part:

BALTIMORE (Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014) — The second year of Maryland’s health insurance marketplace for individuals and families begins on Nov. 9 when consumers will have access to a newly redesigned website that enables “anonymous browsing,” the ability to compare plans — without registering personal information — before enrolling. This feature is being launched earlier than originally planned to enhance the shopping experience for Marylanders.

...Starting November 9, the redesigned exchange will be rolled out with a series of events, including a more intensive campaign of in-person assistance to help consumers and businesses during the upcoming season of open enrollment: 

Nov. 9 -- Anonymous browsing begins on MarylandHealthConnection.gov. Consumers can use the website to learn about available plans, get an estimate of financial assistance and begin comparing their health insurance options without having to enter personal information. This feature will continue throughout open enrollment.

Interestingly, in addition to giving people 6 days before the enrollment period to shop around (very smart), they're also hedging their bets on the other side of 11/15 by not allowing "regular folks" to enroll themselves until 4 days after the enrollment period begins, instead phasing it in as follows:

Nov. 15 -- The first HealthConnectNow! sign-up event will be held. About 25 sign-up events are being scheduled throughout Maryland -- four times the number held during the first open enrollment. Details about times, dates and locations will be announced in the coming weeks.

Nov. 16 -- The call center opens to take phone applications at 855-642-8572 (TTY 855-642- 8573).

Nov. 17 -- All authorized insurance brokers (producers) and navigators are able to complete enrollments through the website and also provide in-person consumer assistance.

Nov. 18 – All caseworkers at local health departments and departments of social services begin enrolling consumers through the website. Medicaid applications (currently completed through SAIL) will be directed through MarylandHealthConnection.gov.

Nov. 19 -- Self-service enrollment through the website becomes available for the first time to the general public and all other stakeholders. 

Again, I have no idea how well the new software platform will work, but this is very wise across the board. It allows them to phase the system in over a period of 11 days, which not only reduces the server load and call/support volume, but also gives them a chance to put the new platform through its paces with a limited/trial run before opening the floodgates to the whole state.

As with the "early-state SHOP program" being implemented at HC.gov, this is exactly the approach I recommended that they use at Healthcare.Gov way back on October 8th, 2013:

I still don't know why they didn't roll it out one state per day; if they'd gone alphabetically, they would have had a solid week to work the kinks out with a (relatively) low volume before hitting a big state:

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona and Arkansas are all relatively low-population.
California, Colorado, Connecticut and Delaware and DC are all state-run exchanges.
That means they wouldn't have hit Florida on the federal site until tomorrow.

I know that the system still would have had serious software issues, but at least they wouldn't have to deal with the massive overload of traffic at the same time that they were trying to fix the issues.

(Obviously I was mistaken about Delaware, but DC is a state-run exchange, and Delaware is also a low-population state).

Doing it alphabetically by state would have given HC.gov 9 full days before the first large state (Florida) would have come online, giving them at least a bit of breathing room (ok, they probably wouldn't have been able to fix the worst problems by then, but they could at least have gotten the "window shopping" option up and running to help ease congestion, along with some other smaller issues).