Supporters of the Affordable Care Act react with cheers as the opinion for health care is reported outside of the Supreme Court Thursday. The court upheld the nationwide tax subsidies under President Obama’s health care overhaul. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Obamacare supporters everywhere are celebrating a win from the U.S. Supreme Court. With a 6-3 vote, the court decided Thursday that Americans who buy coverage through health care exchanges run by the federal government can continue to receive subsidies.
None of the 119,962 Massachusetts residents who have health insurance that is subsidized by the government were at risk for losing coverage based on the ruling. That’s because the commonwealth has a state-run health insurance shopping website, the Massachusetts Health Connector. The case before the high court only dealt with people who buy insurance through the federal health insurance exchange.
But many in Massachusetts had a close personal or professional interest in this case.
“I am very relieved that affordable care can continue nationwide. It’s made a huge difference in Massachusetts,” said Faith Perry, who joined the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization through the Church of the Covenant in Boston.
The cost of setting up the Massachusetts health insurance website under the rules of Obamacare is rising again, this time by $47.2 million.
Additional fixes bring the total price tag for the Connector site that failed two years ago and the new flawed replacement to $281 million. And this isn’t the final bill.
Connector leaders are considering two significant changes — a new payment tool and an easy physician search option — which could push the costs over $300 million. Continue reading
A new report on the botched rollout of the state’s revamped health insurance website alleges Massachusetts officials “misled” the public and federal officials about the site’s woes. Continue reading
The Baker administration continues to put its stamp on the state’s Health Connector Authority with the hiring of two top officials.
Vicki Coates, a former vice president of dental management at DentaQuest, starts on Monday as chief operating officer, according to Louis Gutierrez, the authority’s executive director.
Coates has also worked at Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and Metro West Medical Center.
Gutierrez also announced Patricia Wada, who has worked on state information technology projects, will take the job of special assistant to the governor for project delivery. Continue reading
After sweeping out four Connector Board members, Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday morning named insurance executive Mark Gaunya and business consultant Rina Vertes to serve on the Massachusetts Connector Authority Board.
Vertes and Gaunya were appointed minutes before a scheduled board meeting and the governor’s office reported they plan to participate in that gathering in Boston.
Gaunya is co-owner and chief information officer at Borislow Insurance. Vertes is president of Marjos Business Consulting.
Baker during the 2014 campaign for governor complained that there had been no major personnel changes at the Connector Authority despite major problems with the rollout of an expensive website intended to help people comply with requirements of the new federal insurance law.
“Our administration believes these health care professionals with decades of experience will continue the turnaround effort of the Connector, and provide the people of Massachusetts with an efficient, well run exchange,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said in a statement.
Gaunya is filling a seat reserved for a member of the broker community on the 11-member board, with Vertes taking a seat set aside for a health insurance actuary. Continue reading
Gov. Charlie Baker sought and received the resignations of four member of the state’s Health Connector board, including MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who came under fire for saying it was “the stupidity of the American voter” that led to the passage of President Obama’s 2010 heath care law.
The move helps Baker consolidate his authority over the agency responsible for helping Massachusetts residents find affordable health care plans.
Gruber became a political lightening rod following his comments and was chastised by opponents of the law. He was called to testify before Congress in December, when he told lawmakers he was “inexcusably arrogant” when he made the statement.
Besides Gruber, Baker also asked for the resignations of board members George Gonser, John Bertko and Rick Jakious — all appointees of former Gov. Deval Patrick. Continue reading
The head of the Massachusetts Health Connector is stepping down.
Jean Yang, the Connector’s executive director, will depart the agency next Friday, it announced.
Yang took over the post in January 2013. She oversaw the problematic launch in October 2013 of the Connector’s new website, in conjunction with the federal Affordable Care Act.
“We faced difficult challenges but more people have insurance today and more people can get help paying for that insurance than before the ACA, and that is what matters,” Yang said in a statement Tuesday.
Maydad Cohen, who oversaw the site’s relaunch in November 2014 as special assistant to Gov. Deval Patrick, will temporarily fill in at the Connector until the Baker administration names a permanent replacement.
“Jean was an instrumental part of the team that re-launched a working website on Nov. 15,” Cohen said in the same statement.
Massachusetts residents signing up for health plans endured hour-long waits over the phone ahead of Wednesday’s midnight deadline.
But online, the state’s website handled the last-minute load.
The revamped Health Connector website did not suffer the same outages and delays as last year. Thousands of people without insurance through their employers were able to sign up for health plans during the day. To ease the demand on the call center, Connector official Maydad Cohen extended the deadline to pay for those plans.
“Given the heavy interest in signing up for January 1 coverage, we will accept online and paper payments through Sunday, December 28,” he said.
The Health Connector call center will be open on Sunday to help those who did enroll by yesterday’s deadline, but still have to set up payment for their health insurance.
Massachusetts will ask the federal government for another $80 million to build a new health insurance shopping website tied to the Affordable Care Act.
Massachusetts received $174 million for multi-state planning and a website that never worked.
The state has about $65 million left, but says it will need the additional money to build a new site.
So the total cost of the site — which is expected to be ready for the next open enrollment period that begins Nov. 15 — will be roughly $254 million. If the federal government agrees to the additional expense, it would end up spending about $224 million for the insurance exchange. The balance, about $30 million, would come out of the state’s capital budget.*
Project directors from hCentive, the company building out the new site, walked the Health Connector board through a demo Thursday morning. There were a few glitches, but a sample user was able to compare plans and enroll. The site has not been tested yet with the hundreds of users who are expected to log in when the next open enrollment period begins on Nov. 15. Continue reading
The Massachusetts Health Connector has decided that its current website is not salvageable.
In the latest attempt to have a site ready for open enrollment in November, the Connector will pursue two plans. They are:
1) Plan A is a new site, an “off the shelf” model, built by hCentive. The Virginia-based company worked on the health insurance enrollment sites in use in Kentucky and Colorado. But the Connector isn’t sure this new site will be ready in October. Which is why there is a…
2) Plan B is to use the federal site, HealthCare.gov. Some Connector staff and board members don’t like the federal option because they won’t be able to customize it to include extra subsidies Massachusetts offers. The state also has more than 250 individual Medicaid programs that won’t be available on HealthCare.gov.
It will be difficult for health insurers to be prepared for open enrollment on two different sites.
“We may run the risk of some health plans that are on the Connector today that aren’t able to meet the technology specifications in the compressed time frame and may not be available to consumers when open enrollment begins next November,” said Eric Linzer, Senior Vice President, Massachusetts Association of Health Plans.
The Connector board will discuss details of the choices at a meeting this Thursday. Board member Dolores Mitchell supports the dual track plan.
“Is it the happiest of all solutions, no. Is it a solution that has a chance of succeeding, yes,” concludes Mitchell.
The Connector expects to decide between Plan A and Plan B this summer.