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Connector health plans for 2015 will rise by 1.6%

People shopping for health insurance through the state this fall will find a selection of plans that, for many, will cost little more — and sometimes even less — than in the current year.

The price of plans on the Massachusetts Health Connector will increase an average of 1.6 percent in 2015. That’s less than the overall health care market statewide, in which premiums are going up an average of 3.1 percent.

Premiums vary considerably, however, depending on the plan design and the subscriber’s age and place of residence; many people will see increases greater than 1.6 percent.

On Thursday, the board overseeing the Connector, which serves people who don’t have employer-sponsored coverage, approved the menu of 2015 medical and dental plans. (Dental plans have risen an average of 6 percent.)

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The Connector’s executive director, Jean Yang, said people buying insurance on the Connector represent “a different population base” than the state as a whole. She couldn’t specify the differences but speculated that Connector shoppers might select lower-cost plans. Competition among insurance plans on the Connector and efforts by health insurers to control costs, also contribute to the lower increases, she said.

The Connector will offer medical plans from 11 health insurance companies to tens of thousands of people, with enrollment starting Nov. 15 for plans effective Jan. 1.

As an example of the 2015 rates, the monthly medical-plan premiums for a 40-year-old living in central Massachusetts range from $133 to $684. In 2014, the rates for such a person ranged from $127 to $664. In between, one plan is $12 cheaper in 2015, another $20 more expensive, with other such variations up or down.

The less expensive plans provide less coverage — they have higher deductibles and the subscriber pays a greater share of each service (co-pay).

The majority of people shopping on the Connector are eligible for state or federal subsidies, available to anyone with income below 400 percent of the federal poverty level (which in 2014 is $23,850 for a family of four). Seven insurance companies will be offering 19 subsidized plans to individuals in 2015, for which an enrollee’s share of the premium will range from nothing to $182 a month.

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At Thursday’s meeting of the Connector board, Maydad Cohen, Governor Deval Patrick’s special adviser who is overseeing the rebuilding of the Connector’s website, reiterated his confidence that the state will have a functioning website when open enrollment starts Nov. 15. That would be a contrast to the debacle last year, when software redesigned to conform to the Affordable Care Act failed.

Cohen said new software by Virginia-based hCentive will be able to instantaneously tell people whether they qualify for subsidies or for the state Medicaid program, MassHealth. HCentive is also planning tests of the system to ensure that it can handle as many as 40,000 concurrent users on the first day of operation.

The previous system, made by the Canadian software company CGI, was never able to determine whether people were eligible for assistance. To keep people from losing insurance, the state has enrolled 285,000 people in a temporary Medicaid program without verifying whether they qualify. Additionally, it extended till the end of this year the Commonwealth Care program of state-subsidized health insurance, which was supposed to end in 2013.

Cohen told that board Thursday that the state would extend both those programs past the end of the year so people don’t all try to sign up at once. Commonwealth Care will end Jan. 31. People in temporary MassHealth will be divided into three groups with staggered termination dates of Jan. 15, Jan. 31, and Feb. 15.

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A survey of 600 people who had used the Connector last year found that the vast majority of those who failed to re-enroll found insurance elsewhere, often through an employer or union. The survey, conducted in August by Market Decisions of Portland, Maine, found a surprisingly high percentage — more than half — were satisfied with their experience with the Connector, even though many had problems with the website.


Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer.