Despite Massachusetts Health Connector snafus, a deadline approaches for some seeking to comply with Obamacare rules

Last modified: Friday, March 28, 2014

When the letter arrived a few weeks ago reminding the Shriver family that their health insurance plan brokered through the state would soon expire, Deborah Shriver quickly logged on to a new state website in search of a replacement plan that would qualify under the federal Affordable Care Act.

She didn’t get very far before a message appeared telling her the website couldn’t verify the Deerfield resident was a citizen of the United States. Shriver then mailed copies of her driver’s license and passport to prove citizenship as part of the application process that she finished over the phone. But she’s still not certain she and her husband are covered under the new plan.

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“It’s not clear how far the processing has gone for us,” Shriver said Tuesday. “We’re in a little precarious position right now.” While the Shrivers are grateful that the six-year-old state law that requires all residents to have health insurance is now being duplicated at the federal level under what some refer to as Obamacare, she said the conversion to the federal plan through the Massachusetts Health Connector website has been problematic.

“The connection has been messy, to say the least,” she said.

Shriver expected there might be some “knots to untangle” with a new system, but even she is surprised at how confusing it has been to determine which deadline applies to her current Commonwealth Choice plan — March 31 or June 30.

She’s not alone. Technical problems with the new health insurance exchange, which was established to allow Massachusetts to conform with the Affordable Care Act, have prevented thousands of people from using the exchange to enroll in new health plans, as is required by the law.

This affects some 114,000 individuals who have subsidized plans through the state’s Commonwealth Care program and 33,000 who use the exchange to buy unsubsidized insurance in the individual market through the state’s Commonwealth Choice program. Those plans are being eliminated as the state moves to comply with the ACA.

Another 84,000 people applying for subsidized insurance for the first time are being put in temporary, fee-for-service plans paid for by MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program. The state has been using the temporary coverage to fill the gap until people can be enrolled in their permanent plans.

While the state has received permission from the feds to put off conversion of its subsidized programs until June 30, the deadline for people moving from unsubsidized programs during the current open enrollment period closes March 31, said Jason Lefferts, spokesman for the Massachusetts Health Connector.

However, people who tried to apply through the Health Connector during open enrollment but were uable to complete the process because of technical issues, such as website errors, will now have until April 15 to enroll in a plan, the Health Connector announced Wednesday. People in this situation will need to confirm that they tried to apply online or over the phone during the open enrollment period but were not successful in doing so.

The Health Connector’s extension comes on the heels of an announcement from the Obama administration Tuesday extending the March 31 federal deadline for people who’ve started applying for health insurance but were not able to finish. That decision affects the 36 states where the federal government is taking the lead on sign-ups, though a new deadline was not announced. Massachusetts is one of 14 states running their own websites. Many of those states are asking for extensions on account of their own technical problems.

Lefferts said the state has created a “fast-path” program that allows this population to re-enroll with their old insurer into a comparable plan that complies with law, but doesn’t allow them to comparison shop to find the best prices. This re-enrollment occurs simply by mailing in a check to pay for the plan and avoiding the website altogether.

While Shriver acted quickly to change to a new plan, she fears there may be others who aren’t aware that they need to meet a March 31 deadline rather than one at the end of June. She didn’t realize herself until recently. “That’s a whole new wrinkle,” she said.

Lefferts said some 25,000 people have enrolled in Affordable Care Act plans, with the bulk of those being former Commonwealth Choice enrollees, along with a small number of subsidized individuals from Commonwealth Care and about 2,000 people for new dental coverage.

He expects several thousand more to join the list in the next few days, though those who miss the deadline will need to find health insurance on their own until the next open enrollment period begins Nov. 15 unless they have a major life event such as the birth of a child, marriage or unemployment.

Meantime, though the deadline for those converting or signing up for subsidized plans is currently June 30, the state has asked the federal government for another extension until Sept. 30, to give officials more time to have a fully-functional website in place by this fall in advance of open enrollment season for 2015 health plans.

“We need a little more time to get the website up and running,” Lefferts said.

The state Health Connector last week severed ties with CGI Corp., the architect of the troubled website, and is in the middle of a transition phase to a new, yet-to-be-chosen vendor.

People with questions about their health insurance can call the Health Connector’s call center at 877-623-6765, or visit Material from the Associate Press was used in this report. Chad Cain can be reached at


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