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Health Connector customers to see changes for 2016 enrollment

Consumers buying health insurance through the Massachusetts Health Connector this fall can expect a different shopping experience than existed a year ago, Connector officials promised Thursday.

When open enrollment starts Nov. 1, there will be a smaller roster of plans to choose from, with higher premiums for some plans and lower premiums for others. And there will be higher deductibles in one category of plans.

Perhaps most important, according to executive director Louis Gutierrez, the whole process will be less painful for clients of the Connector, the state agency that serves people who don't get health insurance from an employer.

Among changes in Connector services this fall: six walk-in centers (up from two last year), additional call center hours, an improved payment system, and new software enabling consumers to make changes in their accounts (such as changes in address or income) without having to call in.

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The biggest change may be that those already enrolled in a plan they like won't have to take any action. Last year, when the Connector rolled out new software — rebuilt to replace the version that failed disastrously in 2013 — everyone had to sign up anew, a process that proved frustrating.

This year, enrollees are receiving letters asking them to verify personal information on file. If the information doesn't need updating, enrollees don't need to do anything, except keep paying their premiums. Clients can go online to enter updated details themselves.

About 10 percent of enrollees are in plans that will no longer be offered in 2016. To streamline the selection experience, the Connector's governing board voted Thursday to reduce the number by one third, from 126 to 84. The plans that were eliminated had proved to be the least popular. Clients in an eliminated plan will be automatically transferred to a similar plan, unless they choose something else.

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Connector customers will see various premium changes.

The approximately 48,000 people who do not receive government subsidies will see increases of 2.2 percent to 7.8 percent. But the majority — the 120,000 who receive subsidies — will find premiums going down, on average, by 2.1 percent. Because of changes in federal rules, the category of plans labeled "bronze" will have average deductibles of $3,000 in 2016, up from $2,000 in 2015.


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