More Answers Sought On Troubled Mass. Health Website

In Tuesday's State of the Commonwealth address, Gov. Deval Patrick made just one mention of the problems with the state's health care website. (Steven Senne/AP)

In Tuesday’s State of the Commonwealth address, Gov. Deval Patrick made just one mention of the problems with the state’s health care website. (Steven Senne/AP)

Before the annual State of the Commonwealth address this week, a lot of people had hoped Gov. Deval Patrick would talk about the ongoing problems with Massachusetts’ health care website, the Connector. But it rated just a mention.

“We have dealt with serious failings before,” Patrick said in his speech. “Now, we must strengthen the Department of Children and Families and fix the Connector’s website.”

That’s all he said, and now, there are rumblings of discontent.

‘We Need A Plan’

Anna Eves paid $1,065 in late December for private insurance through the Connector. In January, the bank confirmed that the Connector had cashed her check, but she had not received any information about an insurance plan, so she called the Connector.

“The girl there said, ‘Yep, we got your check, but you’re not covered,’ ” Eves said.

Eves, who owns a fine art printing company in Gloucester, was angry. In one phone call after another, she tried to find out what happened. At one point she was told her check for family coverage would be applied to February, then she was told the money had been applied to January, but only for herself. And now she doesn’t know what is going on.

“[I'm feeling] very, very frustrated,” she said. “Confused — just not happy at all with how incompetent they are over there.”

Now even longtime supporters of Massachusetts’ landmark effort to cover uninsured residents say the state’s performance is unacceptable.

“We are not getting any clear explanation from the state administration, when it’s going to be fixed, how it’s going to be fixed and why this has been so difficult.”
– John McDonough,
Harvard School of Public Health

“We are not getting any clear explanation from the state administration, when it’s going to be fixed, how it’s going to be fixed, and why this has been so difficult,” said John McDonough, of Harvard’s School of Public Health, who worked on the original coverage law. “We need transparency, we need information, we need a plan from the governor and the administration.”

Health insurers are worried about how long it will take to enroll the more than 200,000 people the Connector expected to sign up by the end of March. Only 5,400 people have been processed since Oct. 1, when new rules under the Affordable Care Act kicked in, requiring a new website in Massachusetts.

Connector Board member Celia Wcislo said Connector staff are working “round the clock” to both sign people up by hand and lay out a website solution.

“I think within the next couple of weeks there will be a plan for how and when it will all get done and how we’re going to do it,” she said.

Both Patrick and Attorney General Martha Coakley have said they’re looking into a possible lawsuit against the website contractor, CGI.

An outside analyst’s report to determine what went wrong with the site and who is responsible was due 14 days ago. The Connector says the review was completed, but the report has not been delivered.

At the State House, Sen. James Welch, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, has scheduled an informational hearing for mid-February. He said it won’t be an oversight hearing.

“Maybe at the point in time when it’s appropriate we can address the fact that whatever missteps happened, you know, happened,” he said. “But at this point in time we need to make sure we’re doing everything and focusing everything we can to putting our resources and putting our efforts toward whatever solutions we can.”

Solutions — that’s what people are waiting to hear.

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  • Josiah Fisk

    You can add me to the list of those who have become uninsured solely because of the gross incompetence of the Connector.

    My story is a lot like Dadman’s daughter’s story. I’ve been trying to get insurance for almost two months now. I’ve tried setting up an online account (didn’t work), calling on the phone and visiting the office in person. At least 4 times, Connector representatives have promised that a supervisor would call me to resolve the problem within a specified window of time (the windows varied from 48 hours to 5 days). I never received even one of those calls. (I did receive one letter. It said I needed to provide my green card or other proof of immigration status — a tall order, given that I was born in Massachusetts.)

    For virtually all of December I was told I wasn’t eligible to pick a plan. I called multiple times. Finally, on January 7, I was told I could pick one, although my coverage wouldn’t start until February because “I had missed the deadline.”

    But in fact, as a Connector supervisor confirmed the next day, it was all just a computer problem: I had actually been eligible to pick a plan all along! She said this was a known problem and that they had workaround — although apparently they never shared that information with any of the people I called during December, because none of them recognized the problem or mentioned the workaround.

    It gets worse.

    I picked a plan on January 7 and the phone rep enrolled me. The next day, at the Connector’s walk-in center on Portland Street, I met with a supervisor who confirmed that I was enrolled for a February 1 start date and gave me payment instructions. I sent in the payment and they cashed the check (yes, before the deadline).

    Just to be sure, I thought it best to call and confirm that everything was in order. Fat chance. Somehow, my enrollment had vanished from my computer record without a trace! The only evidence of its existence was the phone rep’s notes from the call. “But I’ll be happy to sign you up for March 1,” said the cheery representative.

    Going to Portland Street in person once again, I met with the same representative as before. She acknowledged that my “disenrollment” was the Connector’s fault and assured me that they would enroll me starting February 1 since, after all, at one point I had been enrolled, and they had my money. Great, I said, I just need some documentation of that to take with me. But no, they don’t “do” documentation at the Connector! Fine, I said, I’ll take a picture of your computer screen. Not allowed. How about a print-out of the screen? A signed note? A video recording? No, no, and no. No documentation allowed.

    In attempting to get some kind of results, I have involved state senator Joan Lovely’s office (they’ve been fantastic). I’ve called Health Safety Net (apparently I was one of many who was sent there by the Connector — completely inappropriately, it turned out). I contacted Healthcare For All, which has also been tremendous. These people took a detailed history of my story and took the time to call me back to follow up. They also indicated they could try to help me find resources should I need catastrophic care while I’m uninsured. I’ve also called the plan provider I picked to see if they could anything
    (the answer: until they get my information from the Connector, nothing).

    I’ll find out tomorrow if I’m enrolled for February. Or maybe I won’t — with the Connector it’s impossible to tell what is happening and not happening, what is true and what is false. There is zero sense of needing to make things right. Most of the reps I have talked to there are great. They’re not the problem — management is. I am quite sure the reps do not mean to be untruthful in what they tell us, but in terms of how things have played out, most of what the Connector has told me has amounted to a pack of lies.

    Although the Connector refuses to divulge numbers, there is abundant circumstantial evidence that there are many, many people with stories like these. It’s a scandal, and I believe it’s much worse than any of us knows.

    • greenhillfarm1 .

      Oh no, this is not what I want to read. DH and I RE applied (we’ve been with the system for about 2 years) as directed before Feb 1st. Well as you have stated we are now uninsured. We got a letter today saying we qualify for a plan it costs X, send check (no address where to send). Even if it work we are uninsured till April 1st. Now I am afraid we’ll be uninsured for months, the frustrating thing is we a not asking for aid we just want to pay for insurance.

  • X-Ray

    On the National level. they point to Massachusetts as an example of how well an Obamacae health system can be implemented. If they only knew.

  • Dadman

    Here’s my daughter’s experience:

    That 877 623 6567 number? They’ve told me I need to call another
    number; and then they give me the same damn number they’re calling from.
    That’s the one that calls me, saying I need to complete my application.
    I HAVE. Several times. When I try to complete the application, it tells
    me my social security number has already been used; I know, I applied,
    USING IT.

    This site is a complete nightmare; the prompts take
    you nowhere that you can DO anything, and the information filling pages
    constantly reject my social, saying it’s already been used.

    The people I talk to on that exact number are
    of little to no help; they’ve sent me to the Cambridge Center for
    Portuguese Speakers, and defunct numbers. If they have been able to
    access my information, they’ve sent me to make a new copy of my ID, send
    it somewhere, and then not be able to do anything for two weeks. When I
    called, they said I’d completed the application, but had to wait
    between 3 and 4 weeks to get something in the mail, which would give me
    my options.

    In the meantime, I’ve been getting daily
    calls/messages about needing to finish the application and make my first
    months payment, which, because it’s taken so long, is apparently not
    available for February now, and I have to wait to be covered until
    March. Its appalling.

    It’s completely ridiculous that it’s
    taking me over two months to renew my health insurance, and it’s putting
    me under serious stress, not to mention the jeopardy that it’s putting
    my health care in. This is stupid, and frustrating.

    All I want is
    my health care plan, which I can see on the site, and how much I have to
    pay, but it won’t let me just choose the damn plan and pay for it. Why
    is that taking over two months and jeopardizing my health?

  • D. Vatcher

    The Connector was quick to deposit my check in December ahead of the deadline, but never managed to enroll my daughter in a plan for January, despite hours on the phone, and a trip to their Boston office. Massively frustrating experience.

    • X-Ray

      If they took your money, it is a sign that a contractual relationship was established. If not, take then to small claims court.

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

    Solution:

    Let everyone use ehealthinsurance.com (I assume there are other similar private, proven, working ecommerce sites as well) or buy direct from the insurer’s web site or through a broker and still get the subsidy as a credit on their tax returns

    • mumtothree

      I understood that you can get the federal premium tax credit only if you buy through a state’s exchange.

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

        That is my understanding too. I am just saying it seems like it would be a pretty easy rule to change if the state exchange doesn’t work. That’s why I said “and still get the subsidy as a credit on their tax returns.”

  • Bharani Padmanabhan MD PhD

    Obama, Patrick and now Bloomberg (on his last day in office!) all beholden to this same Canadian company called CGI. If Attorney General Martha Coakley had a spine, there would have been a serious investigation and indictments already. Sal DiMasi’s 8 years surely should look very short compared to what folks should get for the CGI scandal. And they should be held legally liable for people who die in-between coverage due to the Connector’s own fault.