By Barry Rascovar, for MarylandReporter.com
How high will it go? How much more will it cost the OMalley-Brown administration to fix or totally replace the dysfunctional online health insurance system that it bragged about until the software crashed on Day One?
It already is the most costly debacle in state history.
None of the states options are appetizing. Meanwhile, problems keep mounting, the latest being $30 million in extra taxpayer expenses due to the Internet computer softwares inability to identify recipients no longer eligible for free Medicaid insurance.
Just fixing this deeply flawed software will cost untold tens of millions of dollars. Moving to a new, proven system used in another state could send new spending into the stratosphere. Converting to the federal system has heavy costs as well as severe limitations and the potential for more breakdowns.
It seems like were shooting in the dark, said an exasperated Del. Addie Eckardt, an Eastern Shore Republican at a hearing last week. Shes right.
State officials have been frantically scrambling ever since the administrations highly touted online system froze and refused to work as promised on Oct. 1.
Officials are still grasping for straws, hoping the new prime contractor can make lemonade out of this lemon of an IT jalopy.
As for the next step once insurance enrollment closes on March 31, its another shot in the dark. Whatever the choice, it will be very expensive.
But will it work? Theres no guarantee that it will.
What a mess.
Looming loss of federal fnds
Complicating matters is the looming end of federal largesse. Come 2015, the state is supposed to foot the entire bill for its health insurance exchange.
Maryland has expended $182 million in federal funds with little to show for it. How much the state will be on the hook after Jan. 1 is another unknown, but we do know it will no longer by Martin OMalleys problem.
What a distasteful present hes leaving on his successors desk.
Its baffling that no one running the administration is insisting on an immediate and thorough investigation of this historic screw-up. This wont be viewed favorably by future historians.
Not only is accountability lacking but the OMalley-Brown administration is running away from this question as fast as it can.
Wheres Anthony Brown?
Note that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the widely promoted point man on healthcare reform, continues to be missing in action. Yet he owes the Maryland public a full and frank explanation of his central role in this debacle.
How this affects Browns candidacy for governor remains of pivotal importance.
Does his deer caught in headlights performance disqualify him from serious consideration?
Is this the type of evasiveness on vital issues we can expect from him if hes elected governor?
Do we want a governor who takes cover when controversies rage and lets underlings take the heat for him?
As Desi Arnaz famously said to Lucy, Brown has got some splainin to do.
More sinkholes ahead?
Meanwhile, legislative committees continue to treat this disgraceful public embarrassment with kid gloves. History will not look kindly on their performance, either.
Digging out of this enormous sinkhole hasnt been easy. The road ahead looks susceptible to similar perils.
Whats lacking is responsible, accountable leadership. That could become a dominant bone of contention as the June 24 primary approaches.
Read other columns by Barry Rascovar at http://www.politicalmaryland.com