Gov. Charlie Baker sought and received the resignations of four member of the state’s Health Connector board, including MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who came under fire for saying it was “the stupidity of the American voter” that led to the passage of President Obama’s 2010 heath care law.
The move helps Baker consolidate his authority over the agency responsible for helping Massachusetts residents find affordable health care plans.
Gruber became a political lightening rod following his comments and was chastised by opponents of the law. He was called to testify before Congress in December, when he told lawmakers he was “inexcusably arrogant” when he made the statement.
Besides Gruber, Baker also asked for the resignations of board members George Gonser, John Bertko and Rick Jakious — all appointees of former Gov. Deval Patrick. Continue reading
The head of the Massachusetts Health Connector is stepping down.
Jean Yang, the Connector’s executive director, will depart the agency next Friday, it announced.
Yang took over the post in January 2013. She oversaw the problematic launch in October 2013 of the Connector’s new website, in conjunction with the federal Affordable Care Act.
“We faced difficult challenges but more people have insurance today and more people can get help paying for that insurance than before the ACA, and that is what matters,” Yang said in a statement Tuesday.
Maydad Cohen, who oversaw the site’s relaunch in November 2014 as special assistant to Gov. Deval Patrick, will temporarily fill in at the Connector until the Baker administration names a permanent replacement.
“Jean was an instrumental part of the team that re-launched a working website on Nov. 15,” Cohen said in the same statement.
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.
Massachusetts will ask the federal government for another $80 million to build a new health insurance shopping website tied to the Affordable Care Act.
Massachusetts received $174 million for multi-state planning and a website that never worked.
The state has about $65 million left, but says it will need the additional money to build a new site.
So the total cost of the site — which is expected to be ready for the next open enrollment period that begins Nov. 15 — will be roughly $254 million. If the federal government agrees to the additional expense, it would end up spending about $224 million for the insurance exchange. The balance, about $30 million, would come out of the state’s capital budget.*
Project directors from hCentive, the company building out the new site, walked the Health Connector board through a demo Thursday morning. There were a few glitches, but a sample user was able to compare plans and enroll. The site has not been tested yet with the hundreds of users who are expected to log in when the next open enrollment period begins on Nov. 15. Continue reading
The Massachusetts Health Connector has decided that its current website is not salvageable.
In the latest attempt to have a site ready for open enrollment in November, the Connector will pursue two plans. They are:
1) Plan A is a new site, an “off the shelf” model, built by hCentive. The Virginia-based company worked on the health insurance enrollment sites in use in Kentucky and Colorado. But the Connector isn’t sure this new site will be ready in October. Which is why there is a…
2) Plan B is to use the federal site, HealthCare.gov. Some Connector staff and board members don’t like the federal option because they won’t be able to customize it to include extra subsidies Massachusetts offers. The state also has more than 250 individual Medicaid programs that won’t be available on HealthCare.gov.
It will be difficult for health insurers to be prepared for open enrollment on two different sites.
“We may run the risk of some health plans that are on the Connector today that aren’t able to meet the technology specifications in the compressed time frame and may not be available to consumers when open enrollment begins next November,” said Eric Linzer, Senior Vice President, Massachusetts Association of Health Plans.
The Connector board will discuss details of the choices at a meeting this Thursday. Board member Dolores Mitchell supports the dual track plan.
“Is it the happiest of all solutions, no. Is it a solution that has a chance of succeeding, yes,” concludes Mitchell.
The Connector expects to decide between Plan A and Plan B this summer.
If you have or have tried to sign up for health insurance through the Massachusetts Health Connector, you know the website is a mess. Last week, Gov. Deval Patrick brought in a special assistant, Sarah Iselin, and and IT oversight group, Optum.
Today we had the first of what are to be weekly updates, with graphics that map the problems many of you are having.
Click to enlarge this slide prepared the Massachusetts Health Connector
If you are expecting a quick fix, you can stop reading here. But there are some important updates that might be helpful:
1. If you are one of the 50,000 or so residents who submitted a paper application for subsidized insurance, hang tight. The state has several dozen people (adding another 36 this week) who are going through these applications by hand at the rate of about two hours per application. If you do the math you’ll see it may take a while to get to you. The state hopes to add software that will speed up this process.
2. If you are one of the 124,000 Commonwealth Care members whose coverage was extended through March, you might want to hang tight too. The state has clearance from the federal government to extend your coverage again, through June 30. Now the state must negotiate with your insurance plan.
Eric Linzer, with the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, said “each plan will make its own decision about whether to participate in the extension. There have been financial challenges in continuing coverage at last year’s rates, but plans are committed to making sure these folks have coverage.”
And be prepared for another extension of your current coverage into the fall or beyond. Continue reading
Massachusetts has collected $65 million in fines since the individual mandate, the centerpiece of the state’s 2006 health reform law, has been in place, WBUR’s Martha Bebinger reports.
The mandate was included in the health reform law to compel healthy residents, and others who didn’t have health insurance, to purchase it. As fines rose from $219 in 2007 to $1212 this year, money collected in fines dropped, which is the way the mandate was supposed to work, says Health Connector director Glen Shor.
“Everything we’ve seen about health reform in Massachusetts is that more and more people are entering into the ranks of the insured,” he said. “It’s no surprise to see penalties going down.”
The $65 million helps fund subsidized coverage for low-and moderate-income residents. Mandate opponents say this total is proof it is an unfair and unjust burden on residents who decline coverage.
Ron Norton, a longtime opponent of the mandate who is uninsured told Martha: “That’s $65 million taken out of the Massachusetts economy that could have done a lot better things. I doubt that the penalty has had much affect other than extorting people for money who could not afford to buy insurance.”
(Norton paid the penalty in 2007, 2008 and 2009. In 2010 he got a waiver because after turning 50, he fell into the category of people for whom the state says insurance is not affordable.)