Health Connector

RECENT POSTS

Mass. Health Connector Website Costs Rise To $281 Million

The cost of setting up the Massachusetts health insurance website under the rules of Obamacare is rising again, this time by $47.2 million.

Additional fixes bring the total price tag for the Connector site that failed two years ago and the new flawed replacement to $281 million. And this isn’t the final bill.

Connector leaders are considering two significant changes — a new payment tool and an easy physician search option — which could push the costs over $300 million. Continue reading

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Connector Gains New COO, Corner Office Adviser

The Baker administration continues to put its stamp on the state’s Health Connector Authority with the hiring of two top officials.

Vicki Coates, a former vice president of dental management at DentaQuest, starts on Monday as chief operating officer, according to Louis Gutierrez, the authority’s executive director.

Coates has also worked at Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and Metro West Medical Center.

Gutierrez also announced Patricia Wada, who has worked on state information technology projects, will take the job of special assistant to the governor for project delivery. Continue reading

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Gov. Baker Fills 2 Connector Board Seats

After sweeping out four Connector Board members, Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday morning named insurance executive Mark Gaunya and business consultant Rina Vertes to serve on the Massachusetts Connector Authority Board.

Vertes and Gaunya were appointed minutes before a scheduled board meeting and the governor’s office reported they plan to participate in that gathering in Boston.

Gaunya is co-owner and chief information officer at Borislow Insurance. Vertes is president of Marjos Business Consulting.

Baker during the 2014 campaign for governor complained that there had been no major personnel changes at the Connector Authority despite major problems with the rollout of an expensive website intended to help people comply with requirements of the new federal insurance law.

“Our administration believes these health care professionals with decades of experience will continue the turnaround effort of the Connector, and provide the people of Massachusetts with an efficient, well run exchange,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said in a statement.

Gaunya is filling a seat reserved for a member of the broker community on the 11-member board, with Vertes taking a seat set aside for a health insurance actuary. Continue reading

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Mass. Defines ‘Affordable’ Health Insurance

What’s affordable when it comes to health insurance?

Any figure that comes to mind right now is probably less than you actually pay every month.

The federal government says Americans should be able to spend 8.05 percent of their income on health coverage this year. Massachusetts cuts low-income residents some slack.

Here’s the new affordability rate for individuals. The Health Connector board also approved affordablity rates for couples and families today.
Connector Affordability individuals copy

The 2016 rates for individuals, couples and families were set today too.

But there’s some tension the Connector will have to resolve in future years. It boils down to, well, what the definition of “affordable” is.

“Do we define affordability as a constant percent of income or do we define affordability as burden sharing between people and the government?” asks MIT economist and Connector board member Jon Gruber.

There’s a difference because health care costs are rising much faster than your income or mine, and future affordability rates will factor in health care costs.

As he speaks, Gruber looks across the board table at Harvard School of Public Health professor Nancy Turnbull. She looks troubled. The state hasn’t adjusted the affordable rate since 2012. The numbers approved today will hurt people who have little, if any, disposable income.

“We’re saying to somebody, ‘your income has not changed, you’re very low income, and yet we think you can afford a 5.4 percent increase at a time when inflation is virutally nothing,” Turnbull says.

The two have a rolling, mostly friendly, duel on this topic. It may heat up well before the debate on 2017 rates, because Massachusetts will spend tens of millions of dollars (looking for the exact number) this year to keep those affordability rates below 8.05 percent for low income residents. And with a tight budget, some folks on Beacon Hill are asking: “Can we afford to do this?”

If Gov. Charlie Baker or the Legislature decide that the additional subsidies are not affordable for the state, you’ll hear some health care reform champions withdraw their support for the individual mandate. A retreat from the individual mandate in the first state to use it would trigger some interesting political waves.

2/13 Update: Does Massachusetts offer more generous health insurance for low income residents? Take a look at this comparison of Massachusetts and Connecticut, prepared by Bob Carey at RLCarey Consulting (click to enlarge):

Mass./Conn. comparison

Trouble With State Health Connector’s Call Centers Frustrates Insurance Seekers

Update at 9:17 p.m.: Gov. Charlie Baker has extended the deadline for signing up for coverage:

Original post:

Frustration with the state’s Health Connector is mounting.

Today (Friday) is the deadline for coverage that begins Feb. 1, but an untold number of residents say they’ve hit roadblocks while trying to enroll and pay for a plan. The problem at this stage is not so much the new website — it’s the call centers. Continue reading

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Health Connector Site Handles Last-Minute Signee Load

Massachusetts residents signing up for health plans endured hour-long waits over the phone ahead of Wednesday’s midnight deadline.

But online, the state’s website handled the last-minute load.

The revamped Health Connector website did not suffer the same outages and delays as last year. Thousands of people without insurance through their employers were able to sign up for health plans during the day. To ease the demand on the call center, Connector official Maydad Cohen extended the deadline to pay for those plans.

“Given the heavy interest in signing up for January 1 coverage, we will accept online and paper payments through Sunday, December 28,” he said.

The Health Connector call center will be open on Sunday to help those who did enroll by yesterday’s deadline, but still have to set up payment for their health insurance.

Related:

Mass. Officials Say Most Have Yet To Pay For Health Plans

State officials say about 150,000 people have determined eligibility for insurance plans on the state’s overhauled Health Connector website. But less than 1 percent has paid for 2015 coverage with a deadline fast approaching.

The connector rolled out its new website on Nov. 15 to replace the one that was crippled by technical problems, forcing hundreds of thousands of people into temporary Medicaid coverage.

Residents eligible to buy insurance through the connector have until Dec. 23 to make their first payment. The Boston Globe reports that few have sent checks so far, but state officials aren’t worried because people historically wait until the last week to pay.

The head of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans has expressed concern about the low enrollment and the prospect of many people going uninsured.

Related:

New Mass. Health Connector Website Works, But Some Enrollees Have Problems

Updated November 16, 2014, 9:26 a.m.

State officials and the folks at the Massachusetts Health Connector call the first day of the new health insurance website a success.

“The website was stable and available throughout the entire day,” said Maydad Cohen, a special adviser to Gov. Deval Patrick on the website project. “Response times were averaging under half a second. Throughout the day, no complaints about an inability to get on, no slowness, no issues at all with our performance and usage of the site, which was fantastic.”

  • 5,967 residents were able to put in their income information and figure out what kind of coverage assistance, if any, they could receive.
  • 2,660 of those people qualified for free coverage through the state’s Medicaid program, MassHealth.
  • 1,704 people chose a plan but have not yet paid.
  • 60 people paid and are awaiting confirmation from their insurer.

Roughly 1,600 people did not complete their application. They may still be weighing their plan options, they may have run out of time, or they may have had trouble using the site. And 1,713 people dialed the Connector’s call center number seeking help with their application.

The Connector does not know how many people received error messages, got stuck, had to start over or were told they must fill out a paper application.

But unlike last year, the website is working.

The Connector highlights a Facebook comment from Dianne Anagnos, who says, “My enrollment went smoothly. I am a happy customer and the website was very user friendly.”

Some people were able to enroll with few, if any problems.

But there were also more than a dozen complaints posted to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking programs. These people reported problems verifying their identity, their immigration status or their income. They had trouble enrolling family members. When they dialed the Connector’s call center for help, some people reported wait times of 50 minutes or more. Some were told they would have to fill out a paper application.

Linda Mederios says she was told she would have to fill out a paper application because the site could not verify her identity.

“Not working any better than the old website did,” Medeiros wrote on Facebook, “trying to register & it says ‘cannot verify’ @ this time … been ON HOLD w/phone center for the past 40 mins. UGH !!!!!!!!!”

Medeiros says she started her application at 8 a.m. Saturday. Sometime during the day, she says, a team of Connector staffers called and helped her through the website. By 4:45, she and her husband were enrolled in subsidized coverage.

The Connector will be issuing daily reports in an effort to be transparent about the website. It’s not clear how those reports will measure trouble people have using the site.

The Connector does not know how many people received error messages and had to start over. But here’s a sample of complaints posted to the Connector’s Facebook page:

Continue reading

New Health Connector Website Launches

The command center monitors the traffic on the relaunched Health Connector website. (Rachel Paiste/WBUR)

The command center monitors the traffic on the relaunched Health Connector website. (Rachel Paiste/WBUR)

Updated at 1:30 p.m.

The new Health Connector website for Massachusetts launched successfully Saturday morning and was working as designed upon launch.

“All right, everyone ready to see this thing go up live? Let’s do it,” Maydad Cohen, who oversaw the effort, said to applause just before 8 a.m. Saturday.

The new website allows Massachusetts residents to browse health plans, find out what program they qualify for and complete an application during the open enrollment period between Nov. 15, 2014 and Feb. 15, 2015.

The Health Connector team prepares for the relaunch Saturday morning. (Rachel Paiste/WBUR)

The Health Connector team prepares for the relaunch Saturday morning. (Rachel Paiste/WBUR)

They will also be able to compare plans, including premiums, co-pays and benefits. People who meet income eligibility requirements can get help paying for their coverage through the Health Connector or free coverage through MassHealth.

Nearly a year ago, the former site crashed repeatedly and the state spent millions of dollars to launch the redesigned site.

Deputy Medicaid Director Robin Callahan said the governor’s involvement in the redesign meant a lot to the team building the site.

“I think that’s one of the things we didn’t have the first time around — a real organizing, strong presence,” Callahan said.

Jean Yang, executive director of the Health Connector, said she’s excited about the new site, compared to last year’s.

“A difference of night and day, for the very first time we’re going to be seeing people getting determined for qualified health plan, real time,” she said.

The state expects more than 400,000 people will get their health insurance through this website.

Clarification: This post’s headline was updated to reflect the fact that the website appeared successful upon launch, but more information is forthcoming about its performance.

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