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To ease use, Mass. Health Connector may cap plan choices

Consumers like having options, but sometimes too many choices can make shopping a nightmare. That can be especially true when shopping for something as complex and personal as health insurance.

In the most recent open enrollment period for the Massachusetts Health Connector, 11 health insurers offered a staggering number of plans: 126 in all, each with different premiums, out-of-pocket payments, and benefits. One insurer had more than 30 health plans available.

For the next round, the Connector plans to reduce the options by about a third. The Connector is the state agency that serves people who don’t get health insurance through an employer.

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Sarah Bushold, senior manager of external affairs and plan management, told the agency’s governing board Thursday that the Connector intends to limit to 14 the number of plans each insurer may offer.

Board members embraced the concept, but asked for an opportunity to discuss in depth how the 2016 market should shape up.

“I think we need to reexamine the balance between choice and excessive choice,” said Delores Mitchell, a board member and executive director of the Group Insurance Commission, the state agency that provides health and other insurance to state and municipal employees.

Board member Nancy Turnbull, a lecturer and associate dean at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, cautioned that the first step should be seeking input from “the people who are actually using the website.”

Celia Wcislo, a board member and labor leader, said consumers had a hard time understanding their plans because the Connector website could not tell them which providers were in each plan’s network.

Louis Gutierrez, the Connector’s executive director, said he didn’t know whether the site would be able to add a provider search function this year, but insurers would be urged to provide easy access to that information.

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The board on Thursday welcomed two new members, appointed by Governor Charlie Baker, who had removed all four gubernatorial appointees. The Baker appointees are Mark S. Gaunya, co-owner and chief information officer at Borislow Insurance, who holds the seat designated for a broker; and Rina Vertes, president of Marjos Business Consulting, who holds the actuary seat. Baker’s other two appointees are still being vetted.

The board also met the Connector’s new project manager, Patricia Wada, who replaces Maydad Cohen. Wada has 30 years’ experience in government information-technology, including implementing large systems for Medicaid, the state’s payroll system, and the Registry of Motor Vehicles.


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