Maryland is slated to deploy a statewide health benefit exchange platform next October that will allow uninsured residents to determine their eligibility for health-care subsidies and tax credits and help them find an affordable health plan.

Maryland’s deployment a year from now is scheduled to meet deadlines surrounding the Affordable Care Act of 2010. The legislation mandates that U.S. citizens who meet the requirements outlined in the bill have health insurance or they will face a monetary penalty. The requirements will take effect in 2014.

In August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services collectively awarded $765 million in insurance exchange grants to eight states, including Maryland, to develop their platforms. Maryland, Connecticut, Nevada and Vermont received level-two grants, which were awarded to states that “have made more progress in their planning efforts,” according to Kaiser Health News.

Other states, including Washington, Massachusetts and New York have also established a state exchange. Other states are planning a partnership exchange, still studying options, or like Alaska, Louisiana and Maine, have decided not to create a state exchange, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Maryland is contracting with IBM to roll out its benefit exchange, which will be called the Maryland Health Connection. The exchange will be operated on software by Curam, a company IBM acquired less than a year ago.

Once the platform is available, Maryland residents who don’t have health insurance will be able to use it essentially as an online marketplace to choose an insurance plan, said Ernie Connon, IBM’s vice president of health and human services industry solutions.

Within its first year of deployment, the exchange platform is expected to help more than 100,000 residents purchase health insurance and up to nearly 275,000 by 2020, according to IBM.

Because the federal government is still determining some of the rules regarding eligibility, Connon said the Maryland Health Connection platform is being developed to accommodate new rules as they are implemented. Final rules set by the federal government will determine how much an individual may have to pay out of pocket for health insurance, or if he or she will be subsidized or provided for under Medicaid.

“One of the things that we’re doing here is building a solution that allows for the dynamic change, so if the rules were to change over time, we can quickly adapt to that,” Connon said.

In addition to Maryland, IBM announced this summer that the company is developing a similar exchange platform for Minnesota as well as other states. Connon said for one such case, IBM hopes an exchange will create a user experience that individuals with eighth- to ninth-grade reading levels can quickly comprehend.

“You’re having people who are going to come to this application that are going to drive the online experience, but not have a user manual to help them through this,” Connon said. “This has got to be fairly self-explanatory; it’s basically got to help drive them through the whole experience.”

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.