Web Glitches Snarl Health Insurance Enrollment In Mass.

BOSTON — Some of the problems plaguing the new federal health insurance website appear to be popping up in Massachusetts.

Jeff Freedner, 57, has had issues re-enrolling in coverage via the new Health Connector website. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

Jeff Freedner, 57, has had issues re-enrolling in coverage via the new Health Connector website. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

Jeff Freedner has been in Commonwealth Care, the state’s subsidized coverage program, since 2010, and he’s generally happy. But now, as Massachusetts merges with Obamacare, he’s among the roughly 150,000 members who have to enroll all over again, under somewhat different federal rules.

So early last month, the 57-year-old artist sat down at his computer in Hyde Park, and logged on to a new Health Connector website.

“The first time [the website] didn’t work at all,” he said. “The second time I got in but then it went black. The third time I tried logging on… they were doing some kind of maintenance.”

At one point, Freedner couldn’t get past a particular verification page.

“They said I was incarcerated,” he said, shrugging. He’s never been in jail.

At one point trying to navigate the Connector website, Freedner had trouble getting past the incarceration verification. (screenshot)

At one point trying to navigate the Connector website, Freedner had trouble getting past the incarceration verification. (screenshot)

Freedner, who used to design websites, kept trying to complete his application. He had to reset his password several times and may have several applications pending — he’s not sure. He got to the end of one application exactly one month ago.

“It seems like it’s finished, but it’s been a month, right?” Freedner said, raising his eyebrows. “And I haven’t heard anything. No confirmation, nothing.”

Frustrated Massachusetts residents who think they’ll qualify for subsidized health insurance or hope to continue a subsidized plan are posting similar stories to the Connector’s Facebook page. The Connector staff is posting occasional apologies and on Thursday laid out the problems for the agency’s board.

“Things aren’t perfect,” said Scott Devonshire, the Connector’s chief information officer. “Obviously we’re having some issues on the site right now.”

In addition to the glitches like those Freedner mentioned, the state has not been able to process any applications yet, because the federal interface that’s supposed to verify an applicant’s income and some other factors isn’t working.

“Nobody is more frustrated by that than us,” Devonshire said. “We want everyone who comes to the site to have a first-rate experience. So we are literally working around the clock to try to resolve some of these issues.”

The Connector’s $69 million site was built by the same company — CGI — that built the federal website. Connector leaders say the sites are not linked and it doesn’t look like the root problems are the same.

Connector board Chair Glen Shor say he’s focused on fixing the issues in Massachusetts.

“Of course we’re frustrated,” Shor said. “We take this extraordinarily seriously. We’re proud of what we accomplished and we know how much health insurance means to people. So we want the system to go seamlessly and perfectly and we’re working ’round the clock to make that possible.”

The Connector’s call center, where people go for answers to problems with the website, is also on overload. The Connector will almost double the center’s staff for the time being.

The 150,000 or so people caught in this hold-up are supposed to choose a new health plan by the end of December or risk losing their coverage. But the Connector said Thursday that it will extend current coverage through the end of March, in keeping with the open enrollment period for the rest of the country.

There is some embarrassment in Massachusetts that the state’s model health care program is succumbing to problems the federal government and many states that are new to this business are having. Brian Rosman, research director at Health Care for All, says Massachusetts tried to add more layers than most states when it designed a new website to comply with Obamacare.

“That’s turning out to be trickier than [the Connector] realized,” Rosman said.

Even so, says Rosman, outreach teams organized by his group aren’t hearing a lot of concern from residents they remind to re-enroll.

“We’re not hearing panic or we’re hearing modest frustration, sometimes,” he said. “But we hear other people who are getting through right away and filling out their forms and pretty happy with it.”

So maybe this will be a short-term adjustment as Massachusetts merges with the federal requirements of Obamacare. The Connector aims to clear up problems with its website later this month or in early December.

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  • tanya

    it still doing the same thing it keeps telling me im incarcerated and i cant get past that part uuuuggggg fix this please

  • Mary Lincoln

    Thank you for covering this! My son’s affordable Young Adult Plan has been discontinued and we’ve gotten two phone calls reminding us to re-enroll. Unfortunately, the website is extremely difficult to use. I completed (I think) an application on October 23rd. The website told me information on applicable plans would be mailed in a few weeks. As of November 18th, nothing. But we’ve had another call reminding us to re-enroll!

    I had used Commonwealth Choice for both my and my son’s insurance since 2009 and the website was extremely easy to use and whenever I had a question, I called and got a prompt response.

    Earlier today I called to find out if his application had actually gone through and waited for 20 minutes, listening to advice to go to the website! As I write this I am again waiting for my call to be answered.

    I’ve received a notice in the mail that my plan is also going to be discontinued as of April 1, 2014, and that I can re-enroll from October 1 to March 31. I figured out how to browse (I know I won’t be eligible for a subsidy) but there’s no information on the website for plans with that beginning date. It’s like the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing!

    Like other commenters, I am a supporter of health care reform, but this is getting ridiculous. I am 61 and am really, really looking forward to aging out of this system and getting into Medicare which seems to work pretty well. (If only a Medicare buy-in had been included in the ACA…)

    Please keep following up on this and put some pressure on the Health Connector folks to fix this!

  • jefe68

    State Insurance Commissioner Joseph Murphy said in a letter sent Monday to the Obama administration that substandard insurance policies are “virtually non-existent” in Massachusetts because of its first-in-the-nation health care law that took effect in 2007.

    Murphy wrote that unlike most states, Massachusetts has had a minimum benefit level for six years and that almost all health insurance policies are at or above the new national standard.

    “To change course at this time, and delay certain market reforms, could cause confusion and significant market disruption,” Murphy wrote.

    Murphy said in an interview that about 100,000 Massachusetts residents will need to changeto what he called a slightly modified health insurance plan. For example, some consumers might have to change to a lower deductible, he said.

    Really Mr. Murphy? I beg to differ.

  • Teris

    Ridiculous, $69 million dollars and we cannot even complete the first stage “create
    account”…and is not the first time we are trying (5th time).

  • mumtothree

    This is just going to magnify for individual purchasers (e.g., Commonwealth Choice) what has already been happening in the corporate marketplace. You’re lucky if your premium stays the same or increases only slightly (like under 10%), and your deductible doubles, triples, or quadruples. Some people were already reluctant to use their insurance because they knew they were responsible for the first 2 grand anyway. Some companies either covered the deductible (an actuarial decision for them), or offered help in the form of Health Savings Accounts, so at least that 2 grand was pre-tax money. I know people who were covered by COBRA after a layoff – they could continue paying themselves for their former employer’s insurance for 18 months, but the former employer no longer provided any deductible help.

    Not so for the individual marketplace. I think, in Massachusetts, health insurance reform post-ACA may actually “insure” more people who then don’t or can’t use their insurance, because of the cost. In other words, insurance for everyone ends up being catastrophic coverage only. It’s there in case I get something REALLY expensive. I can see why people would rather pay the fine.

    On the other hand, we can get one check-up a year for free, just make sure the doc doesn’t find anything!

  • mkell24

    So what happens to all of the people whose plans have been cancelled like my son? He cannot get onto the site with the login that he created months ago. The plans offered are crap – JUNK – the word that the elite like to use to describe the plan that he had and was satisfied with. Instead of a $250 deductible for $254 per month, he will now have a $2500 deductible!!!!! His feeling is that he will take his chances. Let the entire system collapse, because the young and healthy are saying screw it. And where is the coverage of what these people are supposed to do? Complete silence.

    • jefe68

      I agree, they are crap. I’m in the same boat and I’m in my 50′s.

      We are part of the losers in this health care reform. Why, because we are a minority of a few million nation wide, and we don’t count.

      The Health Connector worked fine, until recently, and I was able to find an affordable policy that worked for me. Now that’s not the case. I’m left wondering if I’m just going to take the fine and try to without. I don’t see the reason to buy a plan such as the Bronze, that has a high deductible and cost upwards of about $200 per month in premiums or more. The Bronze also only pays 60% of all health care costs. So you pay upwards of $2400 to $3000 or more a year in premiums, then pay out of pocket about $2500 or so and on top of that you are still paying 40% of all medical bills. Can anyone explain why these plans are any good?

      The Silver plans are not much better except the deductible is about $1500 and they will pay 80% of health care costs.

      The real issue here in my opinion, is the health insurance corporations are ripping all Americans off and it’s time for these entities to be reformed.
      As they did in Switzerland, all private health insurance is non-profit.

      • mta

        We have had employer-paid insurance through Fallon for most of this year: high deductibles, copays, and coinsurance–it was a lot like not having insurance at all. Now thru layoffs, my family will lose coverage in one month. I have tried the Health Connector more times than I can count–no new info, same story as everyone else here. I foolishly thought that because Mass. has been in this business for years now, the online search and sign up would be easy! My two points: 1) I can’t wait until next Feb. for someone to straighten out the computer mess–if I don’t get signed up by mid-December, we will be uninsured; and 2) I am finding out that the horrible health insurance plan I’ve endured this year is “the wave of the future”–it sounds like all the mass. plans for all but the super wealthy are the same high-cost-low-benefit garbage.HOW DID THOUSANDS OF PAGES OF HEALTH CARE REFORM NOT PREVENT INSURANCE COMPANIES FROM JACKING UP DEDUCTIBLES AND OTHER OUT-OF-POCKET COSTS??? I thought the point was accessible, affordable health care? I have NEVER had worse access to healthcare, or more “healthcare insecurity”, or higher costs.

  • Ben Kimball

    Getting back to what this article is actually about (problems with the website), I’d just like to add that over the past 2 days I’ve experienced every frustration that Jeff did. Yesterday the system insisted that it can’t validate that I am not incarcerated (I’m not) and wouldn’t let me get past that part. And there was agonizingly slow page load times (2-3 minutes per click) before it stopped working entirely. Today, the system refused to recognize either the username or password that I already created, forcing me to try again and possibly be in the system multiple times as a result. Basically, I can’t even take the first step. On top of all that, the “Contact” link doesn’t do anything, so you can’t actually get any help or even let them know that there’s a problem.

    Full disclosure: I am a Democrat and I sincerely want health care reform to succeed. However. The MA Health Connect website is absolute garbage and a complete waste of time. Shame on those who created it, and shame on those who are say things like “we’re hearing modest frustration… but we hear other people who are getting through right away and filling out their forms and pretty happy with it.” Hear this from me: I AM EXTREMELY FRUSTRATED!

  • http://byrondennis.typepad.com/theabcsofmedicare/ Dennis Byron

    Congratulations Martha on running with this story. I bet you never thought you would see the day when you and the Herald were the only ones covering a major news event because political correctness has kept the Globe, South Middlesex News, Cape Cod Times, Berkshire Eagle, etc. looking the other way

    But David Rose — who has commented here — has the real story you need to dig into. The new Obamacare insurance in Massachusetts effectively cost twice as much as the old RomneyCare insurance — with or without the subsidy. That is, the 100,000-200,000 people who have to switch in the next three weeks can get the same benefits for twice as much or pay the same and see their benefits cut in half.

    Look into what Dave is telling you and lead the state with that news. (The Herald can’t cover anything as complicated as I am describing. If it were twice the price for half the benefits, then the Herald could make that into a two word headline.)

    ASIDE: The Boston Business Journal is nibbling around this angle too but I mean of the consumer press.

  • David Rose

    Yes, the website is a total disaster. I can provide many examples of this. This is the temporary problem. The bigger problem are the plans themselves. I used Commonwealth Choice and had been very happy with the past offering, website and service. When I looked on the new website, I found a very comparable plan in regards to price (same monthly premium) with the same provider. The problem is that the plans are fairly comparable with one very big exception (and yes I understand all the nuances of different co-pays and drug benefits). Under Commonwealth Choice my plan had had a $500 Family Deductible. Now with the current exchange my plan at the same price has a $4000 family deductible. What this amounts to is essentially a 25% increase in my out of pocket expenses from my current plan. Medical inflation probably would cover about 4% of this change since my current plan started in July, but obviously the new plan is far more expensive because of Obamacare. It is very clear that the Supreme Court had it right. This plan is essentially a big tax increase. We have traded a very functional and affordable plan (Commonwealth Choice) in Massachusetts for one that is neither with ObamaCare. I hope by some miracle the Commonwealth, just goes back to Commonwealth Choice for all of 2014.

    • Jay R

      I must be in a similar plan to David’s. If I choose a new plan similar in cost to the one that I have now, I will keep the same premium, but my deductible will shoot up (from $250 to $2000) as will my out-of-pocket expenses (from $5,000 to $6,350). In addition, co-pays all go up: doctor visits go from $25 to $30, emergency room from $150 to $250 and all the others are up by like amounts. The closest plan with numbers similar to those I have now would cost me 15% more per month. I am one of those who would if I could: “if you like the plan you’re on now, you can keep it.”

      And that’s if I could actually buy one! Like the others, I’ve been trying on the Health Connector’s web site for a month now. I have not passed the identity check page yet. And I’ve had password rejections, maintenance notices, non-working “Contact Us” links, and very slow page responses too. When I called, they told me I needed to send in a copy of my driver’s license so they could verify me manually. You’re kidding, right? I can’t add that in as an additional document somewhere? Apparently not! So I did this – took it into Portland Street on my lunch break since I am close by. But still no luck! Days later and I am still unable to have my information verified.

      To the Health Connector folk: you really need to put up a notice on the site documenting what is wrong and giving status on when each problem will be fixed. And you could provide more information about when our existing policies will be valid until. More transparency is needed, please. Enough of these opaque “we’re aware and we’re working round the clock” brush-offs.

      Hear it from me too: I AM ALSO EXTREMELY FRUSTRATED!

  • Nancy Ammerman

    I know there are reasons to believe that this is an important issue, but I am frankly sick and tired of hearing about it. Just how much is there to say, day after day, after nearly two months? At least the Massachusetts Connector issues are a new twist, but really? Could you try just one day without any stories about healthcare.gov??