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New England News

Massachusetts Set To Launch Online Health Exchange

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WAMC
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Open enrollment at the Massachusetts health insurance exchange begins this week. State officials say there is a new – and functioning – website that people can use if they need to purchase insurance.

The Massachusetts Health Connector will launch the new online health insurance marketplace on Nov. 15th.  Thousands of people across the state who have Health Connector coverage now, or were placed in temporary plans over the last year, will have to use the new website to submit an application if they want to remain insured.

Jean Yang, the executive director of the Health Connector, held a press conference at Caring Health Center in Springfield Monday where she promised there will be a functional website for people to start using this Saturday.

"This is a system that has been deployed in other states. We have done work to enhance it and make it fit Massachusestts," said Yang.  " We believe this is going to deliver a better performance."

Technical problems plagued the connector’s website last year after it was redesigned to conform to the federal Affordable Care Act, causing delays for thousands of people to purchase insurance. Yang said the goal with this open enrollment is to make sure people have no gap in their health insurance coverage.

"There is always a lot of pressure, this is part of the lessons-learned. We are doing a lot of things right this time."

Yang said the new system at MAhealthconnector.org will feature a shorter application.

The new health insurance exchange cost Massachusetts taxpayers an additional $26 million, according to the Patrick Administration.  The connector has spent $254 million on information technology in the last five years, which is $80 million more than what was budgeted, according to the Boston Globe.

Jacqueline Johnson, Chief Operations Officer at Caring Health Center, said despite the technical difficulties with the connector’s website her agency was able to help almost 25,000 people apply for health insurance through the state’s exchange.

" Paper enrollment was our biggest friend last year," said Johnson.  " We were inundated, but we had the staff to handle it."

Caring Health Center is one of 15 organizations in the Health Connector’s Navigation Program, which was set up to help people with the insurance application process.   The navigator services are free to the public.

Heather Goodhind, who runs the navigator program at Caring Health Center, said she has seen a preview of the new Health Connector website.

" We've gone onto the system in a training environment and were able to help someone enroll."

Health Connector officials say more than 400,000 people who are currently in a connector  insurance plan will need to apply for coverage during the open enrollment period. That includes 9,000 people who were kept on temporarily in a state-subsidized plan that was extended through January 2015 because of the website problems.

The state is doing outreach through direct mailings, robo-calls, TV ads, and enrollment events to reach the people who must sign up for insurance during the open enrollment period.

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