The Connector

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Can This Woman Fix The Health Connector? Please?

Screen shot 2014-02-06 at 11.27.38 AM

WBUR reports that Gov. Deval Patrick is appointing an executive from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts to help fix problems with the state’s Health Connector insurance website, which has recently been plagued with technical and other glitches that have frustrated and infuriated users:

Blue Cross chief strategy officer Sarah Iselin worked for the state during the rollout of the 2006 health care law. In addition, the state will also hire a Minnesota-based health care systems firm to help with fixes to the Connector site.

The governor says Massachusetts residents who are on temporary health insurance coverage will know by next week if they can be moved to a permanent plan. (The temporary plans were needed because of technical problems with the Health Connector website.)

In addition, State House News reports:

The administration is also hiring Optum to advise them on short-term and long-term fixes to the site and to help clear the backlog of people who have tried to sign up for insurance but encountered technical barriers. Patrick was discussing the administration’s efforts to repair the site Thursday morning at the state office building at One Ashburton Place. Iselin is chief strategy officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and was previously president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts. The Connector Authority on Thursday also released the findings of MITRE, a consultant hired to examine the site and ways for the authority to move forward.

WBUR’s Martha Bebinger was at the governor’s news conference and reports:

The Health Connector site is still not working properly four months after it was revised to meet new federal rules. Governor Patrick has hired a special assistant to guide the fix and an outside IT firm to review progress. Patrick apologized to everyone who has tried to sign up for coverage. He says he knows people are frustrated.

“We’re not going to let anybody go without insurance. It’s not going to happen,” the governor said. “We have a moral obligation and an obligation in the law and a commitment to doing so.”

Patrick says he doesn’t expect the state will need to spend more than the $69 million already budgeted. He says starting from scratch at this stage would be difficult.

Stay tuned for more developments. At 3 today, Radio Boston’s Carey Goldberg will try get into the details of how Iselin plans to tackle the Connector problems.

Commentary: A Not-So-Rosy View Of Mass. Health Reform

By Josh Archambault
Guest Contributor

Hundreds of healthcare journalists will be attending the Association of Health Care Journalists’ (AHCJ) conference in Boston this week to hear from many speakers with rose-colored ideas about both our Romneycare law and a brand new state cost-control law. Yet all is not well in the Commonwealth. State officials now predict “extreme premium increases” for many small businesses under Obamacare.

In a letter to federal regulators the day after Christmas 2012, a perfect day to bury news, Massachusetts officials floated the idea of obtaining a waiver from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) out of fear of the premium spikes. Yet, recently finalized federal regulations slammed the door on that flexibility. Many small companies justifiably feel sick over the decision.

Josh Archambault of the Pioneer Institute (Courtesy of JA)

Josh Archambault of the Pioneer Institute (Courtesy of JA)

The small business community has been paying more for health insurance since the commonwealth’s 2006 reform merged sicker individuals into the same risk pool. The legislature has also added to costs by passing 12 additional mandated benefits since then, a cost borne completely by small companies and individuals.

Now the future looks even bleaker for small business. Not only will their highest-in-the-nation premiums go up because of these new regulations, but they will be paying on average $8,000 per family, per plan more in taxes over the next ten years. That translates into employers and consumers in Massachusetts paying $213 million in 2014 and $3 billion more over the next decade.

Conference speakers will be sure to mention that the Connector was created to help small companies obtain competitively priced insurance, and other states will experience this benefit in the exchanges required under the federal law. Only one problem, the rhetoric doesn’t match reality in Massachusetts. Continue reading

Boston Medical Center Jumps Into Commercial Health Insurance Market

Looking for new sources of revenue and positioning itself for national health reform, Boston Medical Center is jumping into the commercial health insurance market with a new plan that looks to be one of the most affordable offered by The Connector.

I asked BMC for a few more details and here, slightly edited, is a response from Scott O’Gorman, Executive Director of BMC HealthNet Plan:

“BMC HealthNet Plan is entering the commercial market place for a few reasons…

We’ve been very successful with our traditional focus on government-subsidized coverage. BMC HealthNet Plan serves nearly 240,000 MassHealth and Commonwealth Care members across Massachusetts. We do, however, want to develop new sources of revenue and we believe we can offer high quality, affordable coverage to employers and individuals in the commercial market. We’ve been recognized for our quality as the #3 Medicaid health plan in the country in the 2011-12 rankings by the National Committee for Quality Assurance.

We also want to prepare BMC HealthNet Plan for success with the market place changes coming with full implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act in 2014. Continue reading

Connector Says Health Cuts For Immigrants Reflect National Policy

The Connector makes the legal case for cutting health benefits for legal immigrants

Lawyers for the state’s Health Insurance Connector Authority are arguing in legal motions that cutting thousands of legal immigrants off of certain subsidized health plans is in alignment with federal immigration policy, The Boston Globe reports.

Cutting health care to thousands of legal immigrants in Massachusetts serves a compelling government interest and furthers national immigration policy, according to court motions filed today by lawyers representing the state’s Connector Authority, which oversees the state’s landmark health insurance law.

In the motion, the agency asked that the full Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court consider the challenge by legal immigrants to a 2009 state law that excluded them from receiving full benefits through the state’s subsidized health insurance program and barred many others from receiving any coverage.

The full court ruled in early May that the exclusions likely violate the state’s constitution, and sent the case back to Associate Justice Robert J. Cordy for a final decision.

The Connector argues that “adopting the federal policy would better align Massachusetts’ subsidized health insurance program with national policy,” The Globe reports.

But Matt Selig, executive director of Health Law Advocates, the Boston public interest firm that filed the suit on behalf of the immigrants, told the Globe that there was no evidence that lawmakers were interested in federal immigration law when they cut benefits in 2009 during budget negotiations.

We think because of the harm caused to our clients, the harm to their health and their constitutional rights, we think this case should be resolved as quickly as possible,” Selig said.

Read the documents here and here.