For Massachusetts, it’s easy to resolve the question of whether to continue substandard health insurance plans for another year, as the president made possible last week. The answer is no, that would not be a good idea.
Governor Patrick is correct in saying the right road for this state is to stay the Affordable Care Act course rather than extending plans that don’t meet the law’s minimum standards for care. State Insurance Commissioner Joseph Murphy officially notified the federal government of that decision on Monday.
Murphy doesn’t foresee big problems here because, under the state’s universal health care law, the health plans offered in Massachusetts are already quite good. That means the plan upgrades required to comply with the federal law are relatively small.
“We are in a unique position in that we really don’t have substandard plans,” Murphy said. “We are really talking around the margins.” One change, he said, might mean moving to a somewhat smaller annual deductible. The federal law also requires a stronger benefit for pediatric dental care than does the state law. But that, again, is a relatively minor adjustment.
The state’s health insurers agree with the Patrick administration’s decision. At this late juncture, extending plans that don’t quite make the grade “would have required a considerable amount of both regulatory work and IT work,” says James Roosevelt Jr., president and chief executive officer of Tufts Health Plan. “So it really would have been expensive . . . to continue them.”
One problem that could gum up the works, however, is the Massachusetts Health Connector’s new website, which has sometimes subjected people to slow, frustrating, glitch-ridden experiences. People who qualify for federal subsidies must use that site to purchase their plans.
State officials say the issues the site has experienced are steadily being fixed. As evidence, they note that about 21,000 people have at least completed an application since Oct. 1. All told, about 105,000 who qualify for federal subsidies will need to use the website to enroll in a new plan. To make things easier, the state has extended until March 31 the enrollment deadline for that population.
On top of that, another 100,000 or so will have to switch plans when theirs expire this year or in 2014. Since most of them won’t qualify for federal subsidies, they don’t have to purchase plans through the state’s website. Still, approximately 25,000 of them have used the site in the past and may want to again. State officials will need to pay close and continuous attention to ensure that the enrollment process goes smoothly.