- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Maryland lawmakers on Thursday announced a new oversight panel to try to find solutions to ongoing problems with the state’s troubled online health exchange.

The panel, which will hold its first public meeting Monday, will include five state senators and five members of the House of Delegates. A main focus will be overseeing the progress of fixing technological problems and helping as many people as possible sign up before an open enrollment deadline of March 31. Members will later look at what led to the problems in the first place with an aim toward preventing it from happening again in the future.

“We know some of these problems aren’t going to be resolved before the end of open enrollment, so we need to do everything that we can to make sure we stay on top of those people who want health insurance and that they can access it,” said Del. Peter Hammen, a Baltimore Democrat who is the chairman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

At the first meeting, Hammen said the panel will focus on fixes and a timeframe for putting solutions in place. Lawmakers also plan to examine problems people are having with the website and working with call centers designed to help them.

“Five hours on the phone is obviously not a good thing, and we need to improve several facets of the exchange where we are helping consumers navigate,” Hammen said.

The committee chairman also said the meetings will lead to a conversation about how to get a better system in place by the next enrollment period, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 15.

“We don’t want to be in the same place we’re in today in November … and we need to make sure that we keep the eye on the ball and we’re working together and ensure that we have a fully functional exchange,” Hammen said.

The bipartisan panel will plan to meet once every two or three weeks, Hammen said, and will be led by Hammen and Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles.

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