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Mass. Health Connector clients need to enroll to keep coverage

November 01, 2014

Jean Yang, right, who heads the Massachusetts Health Connector, speaks Friday with Noreen Johnson Smith, of Family Health Center of Worcester, Doreen Samuels, a patient, Mohamed Fouzi Raheb, a health benefits advisor at Family Health Center, about upcoming changes with Health Connector coverage launching on Nov. 15. (T&G Staff/SAMANTHA ALLEN)

WORCESTER — Applying for health care through the Massachusetts Health Connector can be a frustrating process, by the executive director's own admission.

Jean Yang said that's why she's looking to get the word out in advance for the upcoming open enrollment period, starting Nov. 15. Thousands across the state and in the Worcester area will have to reapply for their Health Connector insurance in the coming weeks.

Ms. Yang apologized at a press conference at Family Health Center of Worcester Friday for the technical difficulties in the program's initial launch last year, when the new website designed to meet terms of the federal Affordable Care Act was first unveiled.

"I wanted to … acknowledge that we are sorry about the problems you experienced," she told a room of health professionals. "Even though you did a wonderful job helping a lot of people get that coverage, that was not the best experience we could have offered."

Ms. Yang explained everyone who is in Health Connector coverage or who was placed on a temporary plan in the last year will need to submit a new application if they want insurance through the commonwealth this time around. She said she believes the new website — www.mahealthconnector.org — will run properly.

"We still need to toughen it up over time," she said, "but it's going to be a functional website that is exactly what we envisioned. … We're very excited."

Health Connector reports there are approximately 400,000 residents enrolled in its programs or in temporary Medicaid coverage, 90,000 of which are in Commonwealth Care, the subsidized health care program. That plan, which was set to close last year, was extended through January 2015 because of website problems.

Commonwealth Care will end on Jan. 31, but the new coverage will be available starting Jan. 1 so there is a 30-day window for consumers to switch over, Ms. Yang said. In Worcester, there are 2,768 people on Commonwealth Care who will need to follow through on the re-application process, if they so choose.

Noreen Johnson Smith, vice president of development and advancement at Family Health Center, said her organization has come on as one of 15 in the Health Connector's Navigator program, which offers assistance and services to patients so they can get through the application process smoothly. Navigator services at Family Health Center are free and available to any resident, regardless of where they live.

A spokesman for the Massachusetts Health Connector said that entity will also host an event in Worcester in early January to help patients reapply. A date has yet to be set.

"Health insurance is pretty complicated. The process of applying for health insurance is a little intimidating, for lack of a better word," Ms. Yang said, adding it's especially difficult for those with limited access to technology or language barriers.

She called it an "unprecedented job" that lies ahead for her group.

Worcester resident Doreen Samuels, 62, a Family Health Center patient and board member, described how frustrated she had been in the past after immigrating originally from Jamaica and applying to the Health Connector. She said she's hopeful the future rollout will help people locally.

The Boston Globe reports the total cost of the Connector upgrade is $254 million with 680 customer service representatives, more than double the number last year. The state will pay $42 million of that, $26.1 million more than it would have cost taxpayers had the website functioned properly to begin with. 

Samantha Allen

Worcester Telegram & Gazette

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