While other states have seen enrollments in health insurance plans through online marketplaces drop, Massachusetts reported a record number of people obtaining coverage.
More than 246,000 people had purchased their health insurance through the Health Connector, the state’s online marketplace, at the close of the open enrollment period February 1st. State officials said that was the highest enrollment since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Prior to 2014, when Medicaid expansion made 100,000 people eligible for other coverage, the Health Connector had 252,000 enrollees.
Changes to the Health Connector website to accommodate the switch to the Affordable Care Act proved disastrous. It cost $254 million to fix the system.
Gov. Charlie Baker touted the progress that has occurred at the Health Connector during the last two years.
"The Connector just finished a very successful open enrollment period with very high satisfaction on the part of people who are accessing either the call centers or the online portal," said Baker.
The Health Connector had 233,000 members prior to the open enrollment period and most signed up for coverage in 2017 despite some seeing double-digit increases in premium payments. Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who chairs the Health Connector Board, said people were able to switch to cheaper plans.
"The ' Stop, Shop & Enroll' caused some anxiety out there, but 85 percent of the people who had health insurance have it again through the Connector," said Sudders.
More than 65,000 people, or 28 percent of Health Connector members, switched insurance plans for 2017, a rate that is four times higher than the usual percentage of people who change their coverage during open enrollment.
Also, 53,000 people who did not previously have coverage through the Health Connector signed up for a plan during open enrollment. Health Connector Executive Director Louis Gutierrez credited an outreach effort that focused in communities with high rates of uninsured residents.
"In the end that work paid off," said Gutierrez. " In the communities we targeted our new enrollments increased 52 percent over last year."
During the three-month open enrollment period, the Health Connector ran advertising in eight languages on different ethnic media across the state. One ad targeting young Latino men urged them to purchase health insurance to protect their loved ones in the event of an accident or serious illness.
Maria Semprit, who works at Caring Health Center in Springfield where she helps people sign up for insurance, said it is difficult to convince healthy young men to spend hundreds of dollars a month on health insurance.
" We see people with cancer, or who have been in bad accidents and they don't have insurance, so when they come to me they are very nervous and desperate," she said.
The Baker administration has vowed to maintain the state’s health care reform law and its universal coverage requirement if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.
The number of people who bought health insurance through the federal website that is used by 39 states was down 500,000 from last year, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.