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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

Officials compare insurance rollout to Mass., despite differences

With President Obama coming to Boston on Wednesday to speak about the Affordable Care Act, administration officials are pointing once again to Massachusetts as evidence their plan will work.

The president will speak from the same spot at Faneuil Hall where Governor Mitt Romney signed the state law that became a model for the national health care program, Matt Viser of the Globe staff reported.

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The start of the online federal insurance marketplace, where people in more than 30 states must buy health insurance in order to qualify for new subsidies, has been hamstrung by technological failures fueling public frustration.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Friday that problems with the website will affect early enrollment numbers. But, he said, things started slow in Massachusetts, too.

“If you take a look at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, when they began their open enrollment period, a grand total of 123 people signed up during the first month of open enrollment in Massachusetts,” he said, according to a White House transcript. “Obviously, the pace of enrollments increased dramatically as it got closer to the deadline. We expect to see a similar trend in those enrollment figures related to the Affordable Care Act.”

Earnest is right that, in January 2007, just 123 paying customers signed up for coverage through the Massachusetts Health Connector, according to figures provided by a Connector spokesman.

That was the first month that the program enrolled people who made between 100 percent and 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or between $20,650 and $61,950. These residents had to pay a portion of their premiums.

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The state already had begun automatically enrolling people who made less than that income range and had previously qualified for care through the state’s health safety net. Including that group, nearly 45,000 people had secured coverage through the Connector by Feb. 1, 2007.

The Connector’s program for people who wanted to shop for unsubsidized plans didn’t open until May 2007.

There are many ways in which the federal launch has differed from the state’s. But, when it came to enrollment numbers, Massachusetts had two important factors on its side: time and favor.

The deadline for getting coverage or paying a penalty was January 2008, giving some people nearly a year to sign up, and residents here were not stalled by such large-scale website failures.

Public sentiment toward the law in progressive Massachusetts, where a relatively small percentage of people lacked coverage to begin with, was favorable. Pushed by the threat of a penalty if they were uninsured, many more people -- healthy people, in particular -- shopped for insurance as the deadline approached. By December 2007, 171,847 were covered through the Connector.

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@boston.com. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.

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