Massachusetts to Shutter Health Exchange, Will Use Federal HealthCare.Gov Website

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By Adrianne Appel  

May 5 --Massachusetts is throwing in the towel on its ailing health exchange website and will instead connect to the federal HealthCare.gov website with a unique plug-in, officials announced May 5.

The state's Health Connector website has been unable to enroll people seeking subsidized health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act and also hasn't functioned properly for those attempting to purchase unsubsidized health plans, Sarah Iselin, special assistant to the governor, has said. The state has been trying to fix its website, built by CGI Inc., but has decided it is unfixable and will shut it down.


“We need a reliable website to help people during the next open enrollment period and we need to be in a position to achieve a fully integrated system in 2015.’’  

 

--Sarah Iselin, special assistant to the governor

“We need a reliable website to help people during the next open enrollment period and we need to be in a position to achieve a fully integrated system in 2015,’’ Iselin said in a May 5 statement. The state will tap into the federal health exchange website for up to one year and will add a unique interface called hCentive, which is also used in Colorado and Kentucky, officials said. Details won't be released until a May 8 meeting of the Health Connector board, the body that advises the state's health system.

A downside of the plan is that the switch to the federal health exchange will “require significant consumer and carrier adjustments,’’ Iselin said. Residents have been accustomed to the Health Connector website.

Enrollment Deadline Missed

Massachusetts embarked on health reform in 2006 and had a functioning Health Connector website until it was rebuilt by CGI so as to be able to offer ACA plans. Nearly 97 percent of citizens in Massachusetts are insured, and many are covered through health plans subsidized by the state. Under the ACA, everyone in Massachusetts with a state-subsidized plan and with a standard health plan was to switch to an ACA-approved plan by March 31, when ACA enrollment closed.

The state missed the March 31 deadline, and it received an extension from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to enroll people through June 30 . Iselin has said the state wouldn't be able to switch everyone into an ACA plan by that time. She also said the state's goal was to have a functioning website by the next open enrollment period.

Just 32,185 Officially Enrolled

The Massachusetts Health Connector website continued to function poorly and as of April 22, 32,185 people were enrolled in unsubsidized ACA plans. As of April 8, no residents had been transitioned or newly enrolled in subsidized ACA plans. Instead, 101,766 people were continuing with their state-subsidized insurance.

About 159,111 additional people seeking subsidized ACA insurance have been temporarily enrolled in the state's fee-for-service Medicaid program, MassHealth.

The state beefed up a call center and hired scores of additional people to process paper applications to enroll all those who needed insurance.

Massachusetts went public with its frustration with CGI on March 17 and announced it would hire Optum Inc. to help decide whether the Health Connector could be rebuilt or should be scrapped .

Other States' Troubles

Two other states that had high-profile problems with their insurance exchanges have opted to drop them for ACA enrollment.

In late April, Oregon became the first state to dump its own exchange in favor of linking to the federally facilitated marketplace, which can be accessed by consumers at HealthCare.gov .

Cover Oregon's technological woes were apparent from the first day of open enrollment in October. The exchange resorted to low-tech means: the U.S. Postal Service, paper forms and a telephone call center to enroll people in health plans.


Oregon has also scrapped its exchange for the federal one.  

Before that, Maryland was the first to dump its exchange, though it opted to use another state's software as a solution. Maryland officials in early April said the state would abandon its troubled online insurance exchange and replace it with an exchange based on the software used in Connecticut's insurance exchange .

At an April 3 congressional hearing, states that had problems operating their own health insurance marketplaces blamed technology vendors for much of their problems but said they met their goals for enrolling people under the ACA. Most of the state marketplace directors testifying at a hearing held by two House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittees said their marketplace websites didn't function well .

The Maryland marketplace website “barely worked at all” when open enrollment began Oct. 1, Maryland Health Benefit Exchange Board Chairman Joshua Sharfstein testified at the congressional hearing. “For weeks we struggled with a range of software and hardware problems.”

Sharfstein said, “Maryland's story includes decisions we wish we could make again, failures by multiple vendors and too many IT frustrations to count.” He blamed software purchased by the state that he said didn't function as its vendors claimed it would.

 

To contact the reporter on this story: Adrianne Appel in Boston at aappel@bna.com   

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Janey Cohen at jcohen@bna.com