Obamacare woes pit Democrats against Democrats in liberal states

Glitches in states hit incumbents

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The Obamacare rollout has gone so badly in some liberal-leaning states that it has turned into an issue in Democratic primaries, where incumbents are under attack for botching the enrollment period that began in October.

Some of those states were eager, early cheerleaders for the Affordable Care Act, making their failures all the more stark.


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Website glitches in Maryland have wounded Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat whose potential 2016 presidential bid could be hurt if the problems aren’t fixed soon, analysts said.

The Maryland website’s software defects were so severe that state officials released a plan in mid-January to offer consumers “retroactive” coverage dating to Jan. 1, after they could not purchase plans in time for the new year.

In Oregon, another early poster child for Obamacare, the website has been such a disaster that the state had to shuffle through a paper-only process instead of electronic enrollment. In Massachusetts, the state credited with paving the way for federal health care reforms, Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, apologized last week for how the state’s revamped health insurance exchange has performed.

Administration officials have, on multiple occasions, blamed Obamacare’s glitches at least in part on Republican obstructionism, either on Capitol Hill or in state capitals, which makes stumbles in these Democratic strongholds even more notable,

This week in Colorado, another state where Democrats control the governorship and the state legislature, officials were on the defensive after learning that the director of Connect for Health Colorado, Christa Ann McClure, had been indicted for stealing from her previous employer, a nonprofit housing agency in Montana. Ms. McClure has been placed on administrative leave from the state-run health insurance exchange after pleading not guilty this month to eight counts of theft and fraud.

Leaders in each state expedited President Obama’s reforms quickly after Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010. A government report released this week said Massachusetts had enrolled few more than 8,000 people, a dismal showing for a state that pioneered the use of health care exchanges.

Maryland and Minnesota each failed to reach 30,000 enrollments. Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, whose leaders rejected the reforms, each signed up more than 100,000 people through the federal portal, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Oregon’s online portal, Cover Oregon, hasn’t signed up a single person — prompting U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and three congressional colleagues, all fellow Republicans, on Thursday to call for a federal investigation.

“The catastrophic breakdown of Cover Oregon is unacceptable, and taxpayers deserve accountability,” Mr. Walden wrote in a letter to the Government Accountability Office.

Signing up on paper only, Oregon has fewer than 34,000 enrollments. Neighboring Washington touted nearly 89,000 on its state-run exchange, according to the report. Colorado officials said 69,000 residents had enrolled as of Jan. 31, but the state is facing some of the highest average health care costs in the country through its state-run exchange.

Most states opted not to set up their own exchanges and left it to the federal government to step in. HealthCare.gov, the federal portal to enroll, has rebounded from early disasters, further highlighting problems for the states that are faltering.

In Minnesota, an outside consultant reviewed the state’s balky exchange, MNsure, and found a management structure that operated in constant “crisis mode.” Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat who is seeking re-election, is working with a top vendor to try to fix the situation.

Political analysts said voters in Minnesota and other “arctic blue” states aren’t likely to end up supporting Republicans, but the Obamacare hiccups could damage incumbents in party primaries.

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