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Health Connector sign-ups reach new high in 2020

Health connector enrollmentGeorge Patisteas

They marched with a Brazilian drum band and went to a Zumba class. They gave commuters free coffee and doughnuts. They camped out at museums and libraries, and they posted on Facebook.

They went from Springfield to Framingham to Lawrence to Provincetown.

Representatives of the state’s health insurance exchange crisscrossed Massachusetts in recent weeks to urge residents to sign up for coverage, especially targeting communities where pockets of residents remain uninsured.

Following the effort, enrollment on the Massachusetts Health Connector reached a new high: 312,598 people signed up for 2020 health coverage, including 57,044 people new to the exchange this year, Connector officials told the Globe. Total enrollment increased more than 5 percent from 2019.


The vast majority of individuals selected coverage from Tufts Health Plan or Boston Medical Center HealthNet Plan.

Officials on Thursday said they couldn’t yet pinpoint why enrollment was growing but was likely due to their outreach efforts and the relative affordability of coverage.

“We had a very strong open enrollment,” said Audrey Gasteier, chief of policy and strategy at the Health Connector. “We continue to see a lot of enthusiasm around the state in the coverage and affordability we’re able to offer to people.”

The Connector offers coverage for individuals who don’t get health benefits from an employer, and most of the people who enroll through the state agency are eligible for public subsidies.

Premiums for Connector plans increased an average of 4 percent this year — but they remained the lowest premiums in the country, Gasteier said, thanks to a competitive market with several insurers vying for customers.

The agency spent $1.1 million on advertising and outreach this year, and another $1.6 million on “navigator” organizations to help individuals sign up for coverage, the same as in previous years. The goal is to reach people — particularly younger adults, who are more likely to be uninsured — through eye-catching events, Gasteier said.


More than 97 percent of Massachusetts residents have health insurance, but the rate of coverage varies across different communities.

Connector officials offered a new perk this year to people eligible for subsidized coverage: discounted admission to museums and other cultural sites.

Massachusetts has run its own insurance exchange since the passage of the state’s 2006 universal health coverage law. The federal government and other states followed several years later, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The Connector stumbled badly with technology problems in 2014, struggling to enroll anyone in coverage online. The agency has since recovered, and enrollment has been growing again.

Charles Gaba, a blogger who tracks insurance coverage, called Massachusetts’ numbers impressive and said outreach efforts are key to expanding coverage. Enrollment on the federal exchange,, dropped after the Trump administration cut the budget for marketing and outreach, he noted.

Across all states — those that use the federal website, and those like Massachusetts that operate their own exchange — Gaba expects 2020 enrollment to drop just slightly from last year’s count of 11.4 million.

In addition to buying health insurance, 106,077 people purchased dental coverage on the Connector, an increase from last year. And the number of small business sign-ups also grew, to include about 8,000 people this year.

Though enrollment was stable this year, officials said they’re continuing to monitor a pending federal lawsuit that attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act. If successful, the suit could throw insurance coverage for millions of Americans into chaos.


Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.