ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- As Maryland's new online marketplace for health insurance continues to have trouble handling a deluge of requests to set up accounts, state health officials are exploring alternative ways to create those accounts, the state's health secretary said Wednesday.
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein said tens of thousands have visited the site but fewer than 100 people so far have actually enrolled in a health plan through Maryland Health Connection. Sharfstein estimated that hundreds have been able to create accounts online.
"We've had a significant bottleneck in getting people accounts," Sharfstein said in an interview late Wednesday afternoon.
Supporters of the health care overhaul are emphasizing that there will be plenty of time for people to enroll, because coverage is not scheduled to begin until Jan. 1. Sharfstein also said that people have been able to shop for plans online, once they create an account.
Maryland Health Connection, the online site, opened Tuesday, but delays began almost immediately. Sharfstein estimated the site received about 65,000 unique visitors on Tuesday and 40,000 on Wednesday.
Information technology technicians have been working around the clock to try to address the difficulties of creating an account, Sharfstein said.
"We have focused the IT efforts on the online creation of accounts," Sharfstein said. "That's been a persistent challenge, and we are exploring other ways for people to get accounts, because the people who are able to get accounts are able to determine what they qualify for ... and pick plans."
Sharfstein said he expects the state will have alternative options for creating website accounts in person or by telephone in coming days.
"We have a tremendous demand, and as we're able to meet that demand we're going to see enrollments go up," Sharfstein said. "There's no question about that."
Maryland is running its own health insurance exchange. Other states that are running their own exchanges also have been experiencing problems with overloaded websites. So has the federal government, which is running an exchange for states that did not create their own.
Maryland officials have estimated that 150,000 people will enroll in qualified health plans during the first year. Another 100,000 uninsured residents are expected to be insured by expanding Medicaid. Maryland now has an estimated 800,000 uninsured residents, about 14 percent of the state's 5.8 million residents. The state estimates about half of Maryland's uninsured will have insurance by 2020.