Gov. Baker touts 'very positive open enrollment' period for Mass. Health Connector
Established following a 2006 health are access law and now in compliance with the federal Affordable Care Act, the Connector was set up to assist consumers without employer-sponsored coverage to shop for subsidized plans. People who enroll in plans through the Connector typically do not get insurance through two of the most common ways: through an employer-provided health plan or through MassHealth.
Enrollment as of Feb. 1 is greater than 246,000 people and is expected to top 250,000 by March 1 when new customers begin paying for their plans, state officials said. When the three-month open enrollment began in November, the Connector had 233,000 members.
"In a year in which they grew their enrollment by 50,000 lives and 70,000 people changed plans, they had a relatively uneventful and very positive open enrollment," Baker said.
Baker's visit to the Connector's offices Monday was about more than the stats associated with the most recent open enrollment. The visit gave Baker an opportunity to highlight the continuing turnaround at the agency, an accomplishment he has previously pointed to as one of his administration's finest.
Open enrollment has given the Connector and state government fits in previous years, including the disastrous 2013 rollout of a now-abandoned website intended to be compliant with the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
When he took office a little more than two years ago, the governor could feel people's "dissatisfaction, unhappiness and in many cases just misery" with dealing with the Health Connector. Baker recounted a meeting early in his term in which he and the Connector staff pledged to "work together, work hard, and work fast" to fix the Connector.
On Monday, he thanked the Connector employees for "relentless incrementalism" as they rebuild the Connector.
"There is a huge difference between going from, for all intents and purposes, inoperable which is where they started in the first year ... to get to the point where you're operable and then in the second year going from operable to actually pretty solid with respect to capacity to serve the folks who want to be served and deliver on the product," Baker said. "When you talk to these guys about what next year is going to be all about, it's a much more sophisticated and strategic set of objectives because the baseline, for all intents and purposes, has been pretty much dealt with and cleaned up."
Asked if he is confident that the structural problems with the Connector have been remedied appropriately, the governor said, "I think my answer to that would be yes."
The total enrollment of 246,000 as of Feb. 1 represents the highest level of coverage since the implementation of the ACA, Baker said, and is nearing the 252,000 high water mark the Connector hit before about 100,000 people became eligible for other coverage in 2014.
The 53,000 new Connector customers who enrolled through this open enrollment marks a 47 percent increase over last year's growth, the Connector said. And the 65,000 members — or 28 percent — who switched plans is four times higher than the typical 3-to-7 percent switch rate in previous years.
The Connector adopted the motto "stop, shop, enroll" for the most recent open enrollment, encouraging customers to shop around for the best plan in light of premiums increasing by an average of 19 percent for unsubsidized plans with some hikes as great as 47 percent.
The growth in new members was propelled by significant upticks in enrollment in communities with high uninsured populations. The Connector targeted communities like Brockton, Chelsea, Dorchester, Everett and Mattapan with outreach in non-English media, placing ads in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Haitian creole, Vietnamese and Cambodian.
"We made significant inroads in ethnic media across a broad spectrum of languages ... we also expanded our on the ground grass roots efforts visiting churches, barber shops, English as a second language classes and other locations," Connector Executive Director Louis Gutierrez said. "In the end that work paid off. In the communities we targeted, our new enrollments increased 52 percent over last year, with some communities 60 or more higher than last year."
New enrollments were up 93 percent over last year in Mattapan, 85 percent in Brockton, 81 percent in Chelsea and 77 percent in Everett, Gutierrez said.
And the customer experience has also changed dramatically in the last two years, Gutierrez said. The average hold time for a phone call to the Connector was 27 minutes in February 2015, and was just 43 seconds in December 2016. The call abandonment rate — the percentage of callers who hung up before resolving their issue — was 40 percent in 2015 and less than 2 percent this open enrollment, and the customer satisfaction rate has climbed from 36 percent to 78 percent, he said.
The most recent estimate of the state's uninsured population, according to the U.S. Census Department, is 2.8 percent.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.