Connector reports 28,000 new health insurance enrollees so far


BOSTON — Massachusetts Health Connector Executive Director Louis Gutierrez has a sweet way to countdown to the end of open enrollment. As each day of the three-month enrollment period passes, he extracts a piece of chocolate from the "advent calendar" made by his wife, a part-time artist.

"Individuals and families have nine days remaining to sign up for coverage commencing in February and eight days beyond that for coverage commencing March 1. Those 17 days are what remains of open enrollment," he said, holding up the calendar. "I'm on the countdown to Jan. 31. There are seven chocolates available for the taking."

With about two-thirds of the chocolates freed from their compartments in the calendar, the Health Connector has enrolled about 28,000 new members and has not been affected by widespread problems that have dogged it in the past, according to Gutierrez.

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He told the Health Connector Board Thursday that the number of enrollments are in line with projections; the Connector's online system — the source of frustrations in recent years — has "performed adequately;" and that on the customer service side, "satisfaction levels are far above last year."

Open enrollment, the period during which individuals can buy insurance plans through the online, state-based health insurance exchange, will run through Jan. 31. A more conclusive recap of open enrollment is expected at the Connector board's February meeting, Guttierez said.

"We're about two-thirds of the way through open enrollment and I think our measured commentary around this is that things are going well, it's very stable and very solid," Ashley Hague, deputy executive director of the Connector, said. "We're not done ... Jan. 31, as the advent calendar notes, is a also very important time period and so there's a lot of work that we will be doing to ensure people still know they have options to switch or enroll if they want to."

Of all new members enrolled through Jan. 8, about 28 percent are from the 10 communities the Connector identified as "priority communities" with the highest numbers of uninsured people, and 12 percent reported having been previously uninsured, according to the Connector.

Compared to the first 60 days of the last open enrollment period, the Connector's customer service call center received 34 percent fewer calls, decreased the average amount of time it takes to handle a call by more than two minutes, and reduced the average speed of answering a call from 653 seconds to 19 seconds, according to Connector Chief Operating Officer Vicki Coates.

The overall satisfaction rate for the call centers — people who said they were either "completely satisfied" or "satisfied" — fell three percentage points to 74 percent in December from November, according to Coates, who noted that the number of respondents increased during the same time period.

More than 4,000 people took advantage of the Connector's new walk-in centers in Brockton, Fall River, Lowell and Springfield, and another roughly 5,000 people sought assistance at walk-in centers in Boston and Worcester. Of the people who went to a walk-in center in December, 93 percent said they were "very satisfied" with the overall service they received.

Before open enrollment ends, Hague said, the Connector will be sending reminders of the Jan. 31 deadline. The board will get a full review of the open enrollment period at its February meeting.

"Next time we're back it will be gone, it will be over and we'll be preparing for the next one," Hague said. "We are already, actually, by the way, preparing for the next one."


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