Two rival campaigns for governor took aim Tuesday at Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown over his role in the glitch-riddled launch of Maryland's health insurance exchange, contending that he mismanaged implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Fellow Democrat Douglas F. Gansler's campaign contends that Brown — who took a leading role in setting up the state-operated market for buying health insurance — "dropped the ball" in the effort to get the exchange up and running Oct. 1.
Gansler's running mate, Del. Jolene Ivey of Prince George's County, led the charge by issuing a statement expressing hope that Gov. Martin O'Malley has taken over the job from Brown — the front-runner in the race.
"Some states managed this process well and are succeeding," said Ivey, who stressed that she and Gansler support President Barack Obama's health care initiative. "Unfortunately, Lieutenant Governor Brown, given the job of managing the rollout, mismanaged it and has given Obamacare critics ammunition to attack it."
One of those critics, Republican gubernatorial candidate David R. Craig, was quick to add his criticism. Craig, the Harford County executive, released a statement saying, "The hard work of cleaning up the mess that is Obamacare is better left to anyone but Anthony Brown."
Gansler and Brown declined to be interviewed for this article. Brown's campaign manager, Justin Schall, issued a statement saying that Brown finds it "disappointing that Doug is joining Republicans in attacking the president's health care plan."
"The lieutenant governor shares everyone's frustrations with the difficult rollout but believes that the goal of Obamacare — affordable health care for all so that no one is left behind — is worth pursuing regardless of the obstacles," Schall said. He declined to reply to Craig's statement.
State officials continue to try to repair the website, which has experienced problems similar to those at the federal site. They also had been trying to figure out how to deal with the estimated 73,000 Marylanders who will be dropped from insurance policies that do not meet the standards of the federal law.
Late Tuesday, the state insurance commissioner said insurers would be permitted to extend current policies through 2014 even if they don't comply with the Affordable Care Act. They would have to be renewed before Jan. 1. But insurers must inform policy-holders that they could buy a plan offering more comprehensive benefits and might be eligible for subsidies if they go through the state's exchange. They might also face a premium increase by keeping their current plan.
"Consumers should make informed choices about their health care coverage to make sure the plan they purchase meets their specific needs," Therese M. Goldsmith, Maryland's insurance commissioner, said in a statement.
The cancellations rankled many policy-holders, who noted that Obama had promised Americans that if they liked their plans they could keep them. Under pressure, Obama said last week that states and insurers should consider extensions, but it wasn't clear Tuesday evening how many insurers would.
On Tuesday, the Gansler campaign jumped on a comment by Brown, who told WBAL-TV on Sunday that the 73,000 Marylanders received "renewal notices" rather than calling them cancellations. The campaign derided that contention, calling it a "blatant factual inaccuracy."
"Why didn't Brown stand up and do something to protect Obamacare, fixing the problem here in Maryland before it happened?" said Gansler campaign spokesman Bob Wheelock.
Meanwhile, Brown was taking fire from the right for the same remark.
"The lieutenant governor's ridiculous attempt to spin the loss of insurance coverage as renewal notices appropriately opens his candidacy up to criticism from rival campaigns, including my own," Craig said. "That is something he learned from his boss, Martin O'Malley, standing at his side for seven years and nodding in agreement at every ill-conceived policy proposal this administration has thrust onto Marylanders."
At a Tuesday event, O'Malley defended Brown's role in the effort to implement the law.
"He's involved every day in every way, and it's because of his leadership we're so far ahead of other states on this," O'Malley said.
Maryland's progress compared with other states is subject to debate. Some states that set up their own exchanges, such as Kentucky and California, have had far fewer website bugs and a faster pace of enrollments. But O'Malley predicted that Maryland would eventually have one of the nation's best exchanges.
"All of this is getting a little better every day," he said. "This task has been a challenge, but our state will get there ahead of other states."
Mileah Kromer, director of a politics center at Goucher College, said polling by her center shows that Marylanders are frustrated by the state of health care. She said Gansler might have found a vulnerability in Brown, who held a 2-to-1 lead in a recent opinion poll.
"This is certainly a chink in his armor," Kromer said.
For Gansler, she said, the health care issue might be an opportunity to pivot away from discussion of recent stumbles, including a widely circulated photo showing him in the middle of a party where teens said underage drinking took place.