LOTS OF POLITICIANS might like to claim credit for implementing universal health care in Massachusetts (including Mitt Romney, er, sometimes). But after the photo ops are done, it’s the state’s insurance exchange — the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority — that will determine whether it’s successful or not. No one knows that pressure more than Glen Shor, involved with the agency virtually since its beginning six years ago, first as Deval Patrick’s point person on health care and, since June 2010, as the authority’s executive director.
National health care may have survived a Supreme Court challenge in June, but its future is still up in the air — especially, ironically, if Romney is elected president in November (he’s vowed to work to repeal the law). Given that uncertainty, Shor believes the outcome of health care reform in Massachusetts has a direct effect on support of the law nationally. “Our North Star is what makes things better for the people and small businesses of Massachusetts,” says the 40-year-old Shor. “Having said that, we realize people are looking to our experience as a bellwether as to whether national health reform can deliver the goods.”
By almost all accounts, it’s been delivering so far. At 98 percent, the Commonwealth has the highest levels of health insurance coverage in the nation, and despite fears of the program being a budget buster, it’s added only 1 percent per year to the state budget. Perhaps that’s why nearly two-thirds of residents approved of the law in a Globe poll in June 2011.
Shor has continued to push costs lower for some customers; one move led to a drop of 10 percent in premiums for subsidized care. For those who don’t qualify for subsidies, he’s helped make the website for choosing health plans a model of government transparency, with an interface that shows up Travelocity and new search functions for applicants to review which doctors are available on which plans. He’s currently working on expanding coverage for small businesses as well as individuals.
Not bad for someone who knew virtually nothing about health care policy when he started. “If you would have asked me at the beginning of the Patrick administration if health care would have been one of the issues I worked on, I would have answered no,” says Shor, who lives in Needham with his wife and daughter. “I learned very quickly my role would be about nothing else.”
A proud policy wonk for 16 years, Shor dreamed of entering politics from an early age, interning on Capitol Hill in high school and college. It was the behind-the-scenes work that intrigued him most. “I’ve always been attracted to this juncture of policy, politics, and law,” says Shor, who previously served as policy director to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and as an aide to former Massachusetts congressman Marty Meehan and US Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.
His humble demeanor and ability to focus on facts rather than rhetoric have earned him fans from both insurers and health care advocates. “The connector has been a wonderful tool to bring people affordable coverage and hold down rates,” says Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, director of the Massachusetts consumer group Health Care for All. “We point to Glen’s leadership and his inclusive approach as a real model for national success.” If Obamacare survives long enough for the implementation of health care exchanges in other states starting in 2014, then no doubt others will, too.