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Maryland Health Secretary: State Is Looking For Alternatives To Health Exchange

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) -- Businesses with fewer than 100 workers will now have an additional year to comply with the healthcare law coverage mandate as part of the Obamacare health mandate delay.

Meanwhile, Maryland lawmakers are still trying to get a handle on the troubled state healthcare exchange. They've already passed emergency legislation to help applicants stranded by the website.

Now, as Pat Warren reports, they're using a more direct approach.

Just three weeks into the 2014 session, Governor Martin O'Malley signed emergency legislation to give people locked out of affordable care through website glitches a safety net option.

"We are still moving forward to enroll as many people as possible by our March 31 deadline and we continue to improve every day," O'Malley said during the signing on Jan. 30.

The Maryland Health Connection has seen nearly a million visitors since Oct. 1. The exchange reports as of Feb. 1, 29,059 Marylanders enrolled in private plans through the website. More than 44,000 are newly enrolled in Medicaid.

"The benchmark was so low you had nowhere to go but up," said Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley.

A joint committee designed to oversee the progress of Maryland's Health Exchange had its first meeting Monday. Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein said it has improved but it isn't fixed.

"It does not mean that we are satisfied with the way the system is functioning," he said. "Far from it."

Lawmakers continue to hear complaints from constituents trying to sign up online, and at least in some cases, family members trying to sign up online.

"My sister had brain cancer last year and had a very difficult time getting into this and she's been hammering and hammering and hammering away trying to get into the system. She receives an email last week of what a great job [the exchange is] doing, what tremendous improvements have taken place and she still hasn't gotten any type of results, and she's not alone," said Brinkley.

So far, no one has taken advantage of the emergency legislation signed into law last month.

If you're having trouble online, the exchange suggests using its updated page for suggestions, to try again later or use the call center to enroll by phone.

The deadline to sign up is March 31 and Sharfstein said the state is looking for an alternative system for the next sign-up period in November.

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