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Health Connector Extends Enrollment Period To Help Newly Unemployed

Massachusetts Health Connector website screen grab

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Massachusetts Health Connector is continuing a special enrollment period through May 25.

People who have lost their job, or seen their income change, and need health insurance can go to the online exchange and get coverage. Typically, the only time people can access new coverage is during the annual open enrollment between November and January, but the public health emergency prompted the Connector to reopen its online health insurance market place last month.

WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill spoke with Audrey Morse Gasteier, chief of policy and strategy at the Health Connector.

To date, for April and May coverage, we've had about 20,000 new enrollments come in. And that could be people who are coming in just because of that special enrollment period or people who've experienced other kinds of life changes that would qualify them for getting into coverage at this time of year. So we've seen a lot of new enrollments and also a lot of activity among existing enrollees, updating their income information, and making their way into more affordable coverage through the Health Connector.

So have you seen a switch to people signing up for subsidized plans or going to, going to MassHealth?

We have, we've seen about 24,000 Health Connector members update their income information. And when people do that, as a result of losing a job or losing income, they can move into lower cost coverage by virtue of qualifying for more subsidization. So we've seen about 12,000 of those 24,000 move into lower cost Health Connector plans, and we've seen a little over 11,000 people move from Health Connector coverage into MassHealth coverage. So that makes sense in terms of what we understand is going on in terms of the economy. We want to make sure we're getting people into the lowest cost coverage that they qualify for.

What are the rules, what are the restrictions, if any, for people to sign up during the special enrollment period?

So at this point, the special enrollment period is open to anybody who doesn't have health coverage. So any uninsured person can come in the door, shop for coverage, put their information in, and find out what they qualify for. People who are losing job-based coverage can always come into the Health Connector, they always qualify to get in- enrolled as long as it's within 60 days of them losing that job-based coverage. So that's always true, even independent of this special enrollment period.

How long does it take before your coverage kicks in?

People need to select a plan by the 23rd of each month and then, in that instance, it's able to be effective for the first of the following month. So, for example: somebody who signs up for coverage, selects a plan makes any payment that's applicable by May 23, would have coverage starting on June 1.

And you mentioned that there are a variety of plans available from, um, from several providers. Is that the case?

That's right, so we have the full array of local health carriers in the Massachusetts market on the Health Connectors shelf. So people can come and shop from all of the carriers that they know of in the Massachusetts health insurance market. The Connector Care Program, which is what people qualify for, if they're earning 300-  sorry, 300% of the federal poverty level, that's a special subsidized program and that's a smaller subset of carriers. But depending on the people- the region people live in, in the state, they will have access to several carriers with providers in their region and they can use our website to compare and contrast those different plans.

Is there some place people can turn for advice about what insurance they should purchase for their particular circumstance?

Absolutely. The Health Connector works with organizations that are called 'Navigators'. And those are community-based organizations around the state that can give people advice and support as they're applying for coverage and trying to navigate their options and compare different programs and plans that they have access to through the Health Connector. So, people go to: MAhealthconnector.org. We have information on our website about how to reach Navigators, people can call us at our call center. So people should visit the website, MAhealthconnector.org to apply and then also look up resources in their region and those Navigators and other supports are available in all different kinds of languages for people as well

And so the enrollment process is just go to the website and, and, and follow the links. Right? 

Exactly, excactly. The website makes it pretty straightforward for people, so people should come to the website to apply for coverage, if they're not already in it. If people are already Health Connector members, they should come to our website and update their information if they've had any changes in income or circumstance, just to make sure they're in the absolute lowest cost coverage that they qualify for.

How many people currently get their insurance coverage through the, through the Connector in Massachusetts?

Right now we have about 300,000 people enrolled in health coverage through the Health Connector. We've been an exchange for, uh, about 13+ years now and this is the most number of people we've had covered in health coverage since our inception back in 2006-2007.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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