Massachusetts Health Connector enrollment smooth during first week


BOSTON >> Unlike in recent years, the first week of the open enrollment period to sign up new customers in health plans has gone smoothly, according to the Massachusetts Health Connector Authority.

"We are now at day 12 of the annual open enrollment period ... and to date we have enjoyed stable execution of open enrollment activities since plan shopping began Nov. 1," Health Connector Executive Director Louis Gutierrez said Thursday morning. "To date we've had 2,645 new eligibility determinations performed since Nov. 1. Of those, we have 500 new members who have either checked out or enrolled, along with 2,005 existing customers who completed their renewals."

Open enrollment, the period during which individuals can buy insurance plans through the online, state-based health insurance exchange, will run through Jan. 31, 2016. This open enrollment period will be the first full period under Gov. Charlie Baker, a one-time health insurance executive who had previously criticized the Connector's performance.

"Frankly, I don't want to jinx it because it's only been a week but opening week here, from a performance point of view, was terrific," Baker told reporters Monday. "So far the system, minus some modest sort of glitches, seems to be working pretty well, but obviously we have a long way to go between now and the end of December."

Connector Chief Operating Officer Vicki Coates told the Health Connector board of directors on Thursday that the Connector's call centers fielded 20,064 calls during the first seven days of open enrollment — down more than 5,000 from last year — and reduced the call abandonment rate from 17.2 percent last year to just 0.4 percent so far this year.

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The Connector's call centers have also reduced the average time it takes to answer a call from 158 seconds in 2014 to 14 seconds this year, Coates said, and the average amount of time it takes to handle a caller's question has dropped from 934 seconds last year to 888 seconds this year.

The Connector's five walk-in centers — including new ones in Springfield, Brockton, Fall River and Lowell — served 812 customers during the first week of open enrollment, she said.

"This is incredibly encouraging and it's really nice to have seen over the few months I've been on the board how all the work you've put in to make all of this happen ... has paid off," board member Michael Chernew told Connector staff. "I could not be happier with the job you've done."

The relatively smooth start to open enrollment has not been entirely without bugs. Chief Information Officer Jason Hetherington told the board that the Connector's computer system has already experienced three outages — two caused by the federal system and the other an issue with the Connector's login system.

Gutierrez cautioned that there are about 80 days still to go in open enrollment, and that the system has historically seen periods of heavy traffic as payment and coverage deadlines draw nearer.

"If history is any indicator, as we get closer to the Dec. 23 deadline for enrolling for January coverage, that is a particularly busy time," he said.


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