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Mass Connector holds free event for guidance on enrolling for health insurance

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Jean Yang
Mass Connector holds free event for guidance on enrolling for health insurance
Jean Yang, executive director of the Massachusetts Health Connector.

On the first day of Open Enrollment, Jane Kramer went online, and less than a half-hour later had completed her application and picked a plan for 2015 with better benefits and a lower premium than her old one.

Jane is one of thousands of people who have been able to use the Massachusetts Health Connector website to find health insurance. Open Enrollment started Nov. 15, and since then we have seen people use an online system that allows them to create an account, complete an application, find out if they can get help paying for insurance, compare and select plans, and make a payment. Since the start of Open Enrollment, more than 70,000 people have been determined eligible for a plan.

This is great news for Massachusetts residents, who over the last year had to contend with a different version of the website, which performed poorly. That website did not do all of the things we needed it to, and did very little to help people get access to coverage. It has been a difficult year for the Health Connector, and a difficult, confusing and frustrating year for our members and others interested in getting health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. We are very sorry for what happened, and how it impacted people.

Beyond apologizing, we have worked very hard to improve our system and open the Health Connector up to the access to health care people in Massachusetts deserve. Through Governor Deval Patrick’s leadership, we restructured the management of our IT system. We brought in a new vendor and made the thoughtful decision to create a new system for this Open Enrollment.

The good news is that hard work has paid off and we have a system that works. Users are able to complete an application and get into the right program — whether it is through the Health Connector or MassHealth — without system-based issues. They can compare plans and select the best one for them and their family. In just the first few weeks of Open Enrollment, I have heard from many people who are so happy to be past the confusion and frustration of last year and into permanent coverage in 2015.

Having a working system is a great relief and success, but we still have significant work to do. We have more than 400,000 people who are in legacy Health Connector plans or are in temporary coverage, and we are contacting all of them. If they want to keep coverage though the Commonwealth next year, they must submit a new application during Open Enrollment.

We know not all of these people will want insurance from us at this point. Maybe they got a new job that offers them great coverage. Maybe they got married and joined their spouse’s plan. Despite that knowledge, we are reaching out to all of these people through mail, phone calls, messaging on TV, radio and in publications like the Bay State Banner.

We have community organizations across the state, including the Boston Public Health Commission and Health Care For All, ready to help. We are hosting an enrollment event in Boston on Dec. 9, with trained assisters on hand to help (and special guest Patrice Bergeron from the Boston Bruins stopping by in the afternoon). We are doing everything we can to let these people know now is the time to take action.

If you need health insurance, or need to submit a new application to continue coverage, please do it during Open Enrollment. Throughout Massachusetts’ historic health care reform, we have shown that access to health care is a vital need, and one that we as a Commonwealth have declared as significantly important. We have a system of care in Massachusetts that is unsurpassed, and we have the experience and desire to extend to that care to every person in the state.

After a long year, we are seeing the success of our new system, and the urgency our members and users have to access great coverage thought the Affordable Care Act. The ability to find health insurance without complication — and potentially with financial help — is here and the time to take action is now.

Jean Yang is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Health Connector.