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U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md., 6th) continued this week to press Maryland officials to switch to the federal health insurance exchange while the state system is being fixed.

The state exchange, where individuals facing a federal mandate to have health insurance can find coverage, has been plagued by delays and inefficiencies since opening in October. The state system had signed up 18,257 Maryland residents as of Dec. 28, 2013, about 12 percent of its March 31, 2014, goal of 150,000 enrollees.

Meanwhile, the federal exchange had signed up more than 1 million people, with another million signing up directly with private insurers, according to White House figures. That 2.1 million total represented about 30 percent of the Obama administration’s 7 million goal.

“We have fallen quite far behind the national average, and we’re running out of time,” Delaney wrote in a letter to Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, Maryland’s secretary of health and mental hygiene. “Frustrated and concerned Marylanders from Montgomery to Garrett County have contacted my office on this issue since October. I continue to press this question out of concern for my constituents.”

Will McDonald, a spokesman for Delaney, said Monday that the congressman’s office received confirmation that the state had received the letter, but that was the only response so far.

“Over the last few weeks, Congressman Delaney has been told that switching to the federal site is being considered,” McDonald said.

Dori Henry, a spokeswoman for the state health department, said Monday that the department is “looking at all available options to ensure that we can serve the greatest number of people possible as quickly as possible.” That includes assessing the feasibility of temporarily using some parts of the federal site while the state continues to improve its system, she said.

On Jan. 3, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) told reporters at a press briefing that he remained open for the state to move to the federal exchange, even if just in part or on a temporary basis, according to the Associated Press. He said he would work on an emergency bill in the legislative session that opens Wednesday to help people who have not been able to sign up on the health exchange due to computer problems.

Harford County Executive David Craig, a Republican running for governor, recommended that the state promote direct enrollment through health insurance carriers or enlist the aid of Maryland insurance brokers.

Del. Heather Mizeur (D), a Democratic candidate for governor from Montgomery County, said in a statement that the situation “has been a twin failure of leadership being asleep at the wheel when the program was being designed and then overpromising that everything was fixed when it wasn’t. ... Emergency legislation will be necessary to assure there are no gaps in coverage and that families are held harmless from out of pocket costs incurred in the wake of canceled plans and inability to enroll in new coverage.”

kshay@gazette.net