scorecardresearch

About 12,000 checked insurance eligibility via website

Officials pleased with Connector

Yes, it worked. The Massachusetts Health Connector’s website really did work.

That was the message from state officials Monday at a press briefing held to release statistics from the overhauled website’s first weekend of operation.

Of course, there were some snarls and frustrations associated with the website, but there were also these numbers:

On Saturday and Sunday, 57,208 people visited the site, and 11,920 learned what kind of health coverage they are eligible for.

Of those, 4,948 qualified for and were enrolled in Medicaid, while 6,972 found out they could buy private health coverage, and 3,600 selected a plan.

And 137 people have already paid the first month’s premium, five weeks ahead of the Dec. 23 deadline to buy insurance that becomes effective Jan. 1.

Advertisement



The peak number of people using the system at the same time was 832, which the system handled while maintaining its half-second or less response time, said Maydad Cohen, the top official leading the rebuilding of the website.

“We’re most excited by the number of residents across the Commonwealth we’ve been able to determine eligible,” the essential function that last year’s website was unable to perform, Cohen said.

Eventually, the state expects 175,000 to 225,000 people who don’t get health coverage from their employers to use the Connector to find insurance. Open enrollment started Saturday and continues until Feb. 15, but people eligible for Medicaid can sign up throughout the year.

The Connector, created in 2006 by the state’s landmark health law, needed to upgrade its website last year to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act, but that software failed disastrously, requiring paper workarounds and temporary coverage programs.

For open enrollment this year, Connector officials have promised better performance, as well as greater transparency.

“They’ve set a very low bar for success,” said Joshua Archambault, director of health care policy for the Pioneer Institute, a longtime critic of how the state handled the website rollout. “They’re just looking for something to work.”

Advertisement



The big test still lies ahead, Archambault said, when the Connector has to communicate accurately with health insurers so that people get enrolled and receive insurance cards.

“From a taxpayer perspective, the return on investment is still very poor,” Archambault said. “It’s been a very expensive process to get this up and running.”

Technology costs for the Connector will total $254 million — $80 million more than if the site worked the first time.

Optum, the company hired to manage the rebuild, focused on core functions — enabling people to create accounts, find out whether they are eligible for Medicaid or state and federal subsidies, and shop for a plan and select one.

But there are functions the website still cannot perform, officials said. It cannot make changes in submitted applications; that function is expected to be added in a month. It cannot tell people whether their doctor is in a plan’s network; that information has to come directly from the insurer. And it cannot serve people who are buying only dental insurance; they will have to submit paper applications.

“The system is always going to need tweaks and upgrades,” Cohen said. Over the weekend, he said, the website snagged on names containing apostrophes. The IRS requires that apostrophes be removed before it can verify income, and the Connector website failed to do that. Cohen said the 100 affected people will be contacted by phone to work through the process.

Advertisement



Last year, the advocacy group Health Care for All processed thousands of paper applications, under contract with the state. This year, executive director Amy Whitcomb Slemmer said, “It’s been very fun to tell people to go to the website.”

Health Care for All is focusing on getting the word out that people need to reapply for health coverage. Canvassers knocked on 6,600 doors over the weekend, Whitcomb Slemmer said. About one in six of those doors opened, and for many, “open enrollment was news to them,” she said.


Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com.