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With Obamacare Facing Uncertain Future, Official Vows Massachusetts Health Exchange Will Continue

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WAMC
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The head of the health insurance exchange in Massachusetts addressed the uncertainty over the future of the Affordable Care Act during a visit to Springfield today to launch a new multilingual outreach campaign.

  Louis Gutierrez, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Health Connector, vowed the state will not waver on its commitment to universal health insurance coverage no matter what happens to Obamacare next year under the new Republican administration in Washington.

" We were here before the Affordable Care Act, I plan to be here after the Affordable Care Act," said Gutierrez.

Aside from the broad pledge, he said it was impossible to say with any specifics how the state’s decade-old health care law might be impacted by changes to, or outright repeal of, the federal health care law.

" I think it is highly likely there will be substantial changes on the national level, the exact degree of which we are not clear on right now," said Gutierrez.

The Massachusetts law that mandates residents have health insurance or face tax penalties and set up a marketplace for individuals to purchase insurance was modified to comply with the federal healthcare statute.

"And we had very adequate coverage prior to the ACA and we will continue to fight for it afterwards, if that is the case," said Gutierrez.

Gutierrez was at Caring Health Center to unveil an outreach and education campaign aimed at ethnic populations, particularly Latinos, who are less likely to have health insurance than the rest of the state.

" We really want to reach them in their own language with really accessible advertising," he said.

Health Connector messages will run in eight languages on different ethnic media across the state during the open enrollment period that ends on January 31, 2017.  During open enrollment anyone can purchase health insurance by going to the Connector’s website, calling the customer service line, or visiting an organization like Caring Health.

One ad targeting young Latino men tries to convince them to purchase health insurance to protect their loved ones in the event of an accident or serious illness.

Maria Semprit, who works at Caring Health helping people sign up for insurance, said it is difficult to convince healthy young men to spend hundreds of dollars a month on health insurance.

"You have people that have cancer or have had a serious accident and they don't have insurance, so when they come to us they are very nervous, they are desperate and really need it," she said.

People buying insurance through the state’s Health Connector this year face higher prices and fewer choices.  The average premium increased 6.7 percent. There are 62 insurance plans available, down from 84 this year.

Gutierrez said people facing big premium increases are being encouraged to shop to find a plan that offers similar benefits at a lower cost.

" So far in open enrollment we have had very active involvement in shoppers coming to our website, calling our call centers. We've seen almost twice the amount of traffic we did last year," said Gutierrez.

About 235,000 people have insurance purchased through the Health Connector.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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