About 125,000 people enrolled in qualified health plans (QHPs) and about 286,000 people enrolled in MassHealth (Medicaid) through the Health Connector during 2015 open enrollment.
Massachusetts Health Connector extended the 2015 open enrollment period, giving residents until Feb. 23 to apply, select a health plan, and make their first premium payment. Massachusetts granted the extension because severe winter weather triggered periodic closures or staffing shortages at call centers and walk-in sites.
Massachusetts is among three states (Idaho and Colorado are the other two) where there’s no special enrollment period for people who were unaware of the tax penalty for being uninsured. It’s unlikely that there were many people in Massachusetts in that position, given that state law has imposed a similar tax penalty for the last several years.
Gov. Charlie Baker was sworn into office in January 2015, and he moved quickly to bring change to the Health Connector leadership ranks.
In late January, Baker appointed Louis Gutierrez to replace Jean Yang as the executive director of the Health Connector. Gutierrez was most recently a principal at the Exeter Group, an IT consulting firm. He’s also served as the state’s chief information officer in several administrations and was senior vice president and chief information & technology officer at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.
Baker shook up the 11-member Health Connector board of directors. Two members of Baker’s cabinet are board members: Marylou Sudders, who is the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Kristen Lepore, who is the Secretary of Administration and Finance. In late February, Gov. Baker asked four Health Connector board members, all appointed by former Gov. Deval Patrick, to resign. In calling for the resignations, Baker cited the poor performance of the Health Connector in 2014 as well as ongoing issues and said he wanted his own team in place to make further fixes. In late March, Baker appointed replacements for two of the four open board seats. When Baker fills the other two seats, he will have named six of the 11 board members.
Health Connector 2014 enrollment counts
The Health Connector reported that it enrolled 308,000 people into coverage in 2014. Given that the Health Connector was set up several years before the ACA was passed, many of the 308,000 were already in one of several state-sponsored programs. The final HHS 2014 enrollment report put Massachusetts’ enrollment in qualified health plans (QHPs) at 31,695.
Of the 308,000 enrollments reported by the Health Connector, about 271,000 were for subsidized coverage and about 37,000 were for unsubsidized coverage. The subsidized figure includes more than 200,000 people who were given temporary coverage through MassHealth (Medicaid) while technological problems were addressed. The subsidized figure also includes residents who were shifting from existing state-sponsored programs to new or different programs that are aligned with ACA’s eligibility standards.
History of Massachusetts Health Connector
Massachusetts enacted comprehensive health reform in 2006 that created the Massachusetts Health Connector. Massachusetts’ reforms served as the model for the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was signed into law in 2010.
While the ACA health insurance marketplaces were modeled on the Massachusetts exchange, the technical upgrades that were needed to make Health Connector ACA-compliant were not implemented smoothly or on time.
The Health Connector performed very poorly during the first ACA open enrollment period. Health Connector hired a consultant, MITRE Corporation, to assess its website problems. MITRE determined that CGI — the lead IT vendor — lacked necessary expertise, managed the project poorly, lost data, and failed to adequately test the revamped website prior to its launch. MITRE also said the roles and decision-making authority of the three state entities involved in the project (Massachusetts Health Connector, MassHealth, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School) were unclear.
Despite the issues with CGI, state officials deemed it too disruptive to cut ties with the vendor during 2014 open enrollment. In January, Massachusetts brought on Optum, a subsidiary of United HealthGroup, to work through some of the immediate problems with the Health Connector. When 2014 open enrollment ended, Health Connector officials moved to terminate the CGI contract.
The Health Connector struggled with technological problems during 2014 open enrollment, and officials spent the spring and summer evaluating whether to fix the state’s system or transition to HealthCare.gov.
Massachusetts officials pursued a “dual track” solution to make the Health Connector work better for the 2015 open enrollment period. One track evaluated replacing existing Health Connector software with hCentive, an off-the-shelf software solution that was successfully used by the Colorado, Kentucky, and New York exchanges. The second track considered was transitioning to the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, for enrollment.
In early July, hCentive successfully demonstrated that it could connect to the federal data hub to verify applicants’ identifies and income levels. After additional testing in August, Massachusetts and CMS determined continuing as a state-run exchange using the hCentive platform was the right approach for the state.
The hCentive system has been customized for the Massachusetts insurance marketplace. It supports State Wrap, which provides additional state-sponsored premium assistance, as well as a “single door” enrollment for either private health insurance or MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program. The hCentive system also includes functionality to better handle transactions between insurance companies and consumers and “back office” functions for insurers.
State officials put the cost of rebuilding Health Connector at $254 million, with the state paying $30 million and the federal government paying the balance. In addition, the state has paid $259 million in medical claims for people who were placed temporarily placed on MassHealth.
Health Connector performance is greatly improved over 2014. However, officials acknowledge many additional fixes are still needed, and consumers continue to struggle with the online payment system and long waits for customer assistance.
Massachusetts health insurance exchange links
Massachusetts Health Connector
State Exchange Profile: Massachusetts
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation overview of Massachusetts’ progress toward creating a state health insurance exchange.
Health Care for All – Massachusetts Consumer Assistance Program
Assists people insured by private health plans, Medicaid, or other plans in resolving problems pertaining to their health coverage; assists uninsured residents with access to care.(800) 272-4232
Office of Patient Protection, Department of Public Health
800-436-7757 (toll-free nationwide)
Serves residents and other consumers who receive health coverage from a Massachusetts carrier, insurer, or HMO.