With ongoing efforts by the Trump administration to undermine the Affordable Care Act, the Massachusetts Health Connector has launched a campaign to promote the upcoming three-month open enrollment period.
Health Connector Executive Director Louis Gutierrez stopped at several small businesses Monday in Holyoke and Springfield, two cities with higher rates of residents without insurance, to thank the owners for putting up signs encouraging people to sign up for coverage.
" There's been a lot of confusion on the national scene and we want to dispel that locally, " said Gutierrz. "We are open for business, we are eager for business."
Less than two weeks before the start of open enrollment on Nov. 1st, the Connector announced that 2018 rates for plans will rise an average of 24 percent – the result of President Trump’s decision to end federal payments to insurance companies that subsidize coverage.
The big increases are expected to affect about 80,000 mostly middle-income people. Gutierrez said those people should shop around during open enrollment to find affordable plan.
" We support that shopping whether it is on our exchange, or if we can help you find the right plan off-exchange, " said Gutierrez.
A spokesman for the Connector said more than 50 insurance plans will be offered by eight companies through the online marketplace for 2018. While the uncertainty about the future of the health care law has led insurance companies to leave exchanges in some states that has not happened in Massachusetts.
More than 246,000 people purchased health insurance through the Connector in 2017 –the highest enrollment since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014.
Gutierrez said the goal is to have the same number insured through the Connector in 2018.
" So we are reaching out to various immigrant, cultural and ethnic populations very strongly to let them know their options, and we really care about the western part of the state," said Gutierrez.
Massachusetts has the lowest rate of people without health insurance in the country – 2.5 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. According to a Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation report, 5.5 percent of the residents of Springfield lack health insurance. The uninsured rate in Holyoke is 3.9 percent.
Signs promoting the Health Connector’s open enrollment were put up in the window and next to the counter at Capri Pizza on Cabot Street in Holyoke and across the street at C-Town Supermarket, where owner Tony Diaz said the signs, in English and Spanish, will be seen by about 800 customers a day.
"It is to educate people that they have options available to them that they can take advantage of," said Diaz.
The open enrollment period is scheduled to end on January 23, 2018. But in past years, the enrollment deadline has frequently been extended for an extra week or two.