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New England News

Massachusetts Health Connector Has New Site For Small Businesses

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  The time for people in Massachusetts to buy health coverage through the state’s insurance exchange is over, but the biggest sign-up time for small businesses is approaching.

   Despite a rocky start to the open-enrollment period for the Massachusetts Health Connector, 252,786 people signed-up for coverage for 2018, an increase of about 6,000 from last year.

    Just a month before the open enrollment period began last October, the Connector raised prices for the most popular mid-level health plans by an average of 24 percent after federal subsidies were cut, prompting Connector Executive Director Louis Gutierrez to urge people to shop around.

     " We support that shopping whether it is on our exchange, or whether we can help you find the right plan off-exchange," Gutierrez said last October while promoting open-enrollment. " We believe in coverage."

    About 20,000 people ended up leaving the state-run exchange to find health insurance coverage elsewhere.  About 32,000 residents switched to a cheaper plan with the Connector and 19,000 kept their current plan and so will pay sharply higher premiums.

    " Our goal every open-enrollment is to expand access to affordable coverage to people who do not have health insurance, and to ensure that our current members are able to maintain quality coverage that best suits their needs," Gutierrez said in a statment.

    Massachusetts still requires that all adults have health insurance, even though the federal government will drop the individual mandate for coverage after this year.

    The Connector, in January, launched a new website for small business owners to select health care plans for their employees.   Heather Cloran, Director of Health Plans and Operations at the Connector, said the website makes it easier for employers to shop around.

    "Not only is it streamlined and user-friendly it also serves as the source of truth for enrollment," said Cloran.

      By using the site, businesses with fewer than 50 employees have some of the flexibility that large employers have enjoyed, accorded to Cloran.

  "We offer choice models with flexibility for employers and cost-savings and a wellness model too," said Cloran.

    Small businesses owners can select one insurance company from which employees can choose any tier of coverage offered by that insurer.  Alternatively, employers can select one tier of a plan  –  mid-level gold, for example, –  and their employees can  pick between what several companies offer in that tier.

   About a third of Massachusetts businesses that purchased health insurance through the Connector last year face a March 10th deadline to pick their health plans so employees will still have coverage on April 1st.

   The Baker administration last month obtained a special waiver from the federal government that it said it would stabilize premiums in the small business health insurance market through next year.

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