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Officials: Hiccups but largely smooth rollout of health site


By Andy Metzger


STATE HOUSE — A revamped state website compliant with the Affordable Care Act successfully processed 11,920 individuals and families for MassHealth coverage or Health Connector eligibility over the weekend, state officials said Monday.

The website hit a high of about 1,300 visitors online at one time on Monday morning, said Maydad Cohen, the governor’s special assistant for project delivery.

Over the weekend, 4,948 visitors enrolled online in MassHealth coverage, and 6,972 were determined eligible for Health Connector plans.

Of those eligible for Connector plans, 3,628 qualified for some form of subsidized plan. The rest will be able to purchase plans without subsidy.

According to the Patrick administration, people with apostrophes in their names experienced difficulties using the website because the Internal Revenue Service does not recognize those characters.

Spokeswoman Kim Haberlin said an estimated 100 people encountered an error related to apostrophes and the Connector will call each of them to explain the problem and walk them through it.

During a press conference and conference call Monday, Cohen said the new website has new capabilities to determine eligibility for consumers and new means of measuring its own performance.

Last year, the administration was slow to acknowledge problems with its flawed website, which was eventually scrapped after it became clear that individuals could not use it successfully.

“From an IT perspective it is easily handling the volumes, and that’s not the type of data that was necessarily easily available and accessible last year,” Cohen said. He said, “Last year there were immediate issues with the slowness and the responsiveness of the website to individuals.”

Joshua Archambault, the director of health care policy for the Pioneer Institute, told the News Service he appreciated some of the “program integrity” aspects of the new site while predicting taxpayers would be disappointed at the return on investment.

Archambault said the site “still cannot handle basic life changes, and shoppers are not able to find out” if their current doctor is included in a plan they might be shopping for.

The launch of the new site has included some “expected hiccups,” said Cohen. One bottleneck at the call centers has been caused by the large number of people using the phone center to complete their applications, according to Cohen, who said about 80 percent of callers were seeking to undergo the full application process over the phone.

“The beauty of this website is it is up and working. It is a smooth, easy working experience to go through it,” said Cohen.

Cohen said the Connector worked with Dell to “bring in more customer service reps.” He said 60 call center representatives have been added.

After its Saturday re-launch, the website MAHealthConnector.Org had a total of 57,208 visits in the first two days.

Coverage for people eligible for MassHealth will begin immediately while those eligible for Connector plans will need to select a plan and pay their first bill to receive coverage starting Jan. 1.