- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) - Two Democratic candidates who are running for governor debated Thursday night about how Maryland should best address ongoing problems with the state’s health care exchange.

Attorney General Doug Gansler said the state should allow residents to choose whether they want to use the state’s exchange or the one run by the federal government.

But Del. Heather Mizeur said Gansler’s proposal is not a viable option. She said the only way Maryland and the federal government can work together on a website is if the state administers the Medicaid portion of health care reform and turns over the private insurance portion to the federal government.

“The states aren’t allowed to operate a commercial exchange website like we are and to have a federal one going right alongside with it,” Mizeur told a full ballroom at the Leisure World retirement community, home to about 8,500 in Maryland’s Montgomery County in the suburbs of the nation’s capital.

Gansler, however, disagreed when asked by reporters after the forum.

“The beauty of this is it doesn’t take away the choice of anybody’s,” Gansler said.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who also is a candidate, did not attend the forum, because his father died earlier in the day. Brown has been criticized during the campaign for the exchange’s troubled rollout in Maryland. That’s because he took on a leading role in implementing health care reform in the state.

Justin Schall, a campaign spokesman for Brown, said the campaign would not be commenting Thursday night.

“Tonight is not a night for politics for us,” Schall said.

Brown testified to lawmakers earlier this month that he was not made aware of the potential scope of technical problems the exchange website would have.

His opponents have used the flawed rollout to question Brown’s leadership skills.

Maryland is one of 14 states to opt to create its own exchange website instead of using the federal government’s.

The state’s exchange had problems almost as soon as it opened Oct. 1. While state officials say it has been improved, people still have problems enrolling in private health care plans through the website. The state is far short of meeting its goal of enrolling 150,000 people by the end of the enrollment period on March 31.

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