Officials: Mass. making progress on health signups

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BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts officials say they are making "significant progress" signing up people for health care as they work to fix the state's troubled health insurance website.

In the past seven days, about 15,000 individuals and households were successfully signed up for transitional coverage; another 7,000 electronic applications that had been entered into the system were found to be duplicates, officials said Friday.

"Coverage is going to continue to grow from here," said Sarah Iselin, a special assistant to Gov. Deval Patrick.

Iselin said that out of another 50,000 paper applications, 28,000 have been screened. Of those, 15,000 were found to already be enrolled in coverage and about 4,000 were duplicate applications.

A single application can cover an individual or a family.

Iselin said she's prioritized the data entry of the rest of the applications and nearly 200 people are working on the process. The number of workers will ramp up to more than 300 supplemental staff over the next two weeks, she said.

"There's clearly still a lot to do, and we realize a lot of uncertainty for too many people still waiting for coverage," she added, saying that state has a "laser-like focus on getting people signed up."

Jean Yang, executive director of the Massachusetts Health Connector, said the agency is using email blasts, community forums, social media and is preparing a mass mailing to get the word out that the federal government has granted Massachusetts a three-month extension to meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act

The waiver from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services extends a March 31 deadline to June 30 and means that about 124,000 people previously enrolled in the state's subsidized Commonwealth Care program will keep their coverage through the end of June.

Yang said the agency has also developed a new program to help the 32,000 people enrolled in non-subsidized plans to quickly enroll in new plans before their coverage ends at the end of March.

Yang said letters have been sent to each individual advising him or her about what health care plan in compliance with the federal health care law most closely matches their existing plan. She said individuals can switch coverage by signing up and paying the first month of premiums — avoiding the full application process.

She said the state's health insurance website has "end-to-end functionality" for non-subsidized plans and has already enrolled more than 11,000 people since January.

The problems with the process began last year after the state hired CGI Group to create a new website to serve as a portal for re-enrolling residents into Affordable Care Act-compliant plans. CGI was also the top contractor on the troubled federal website. The state has contracted with the health care technology firm Optum to identify a permanent fix for the Massachusetts website.

Massachusetts has boasted of having a 97 percent coverage rate under its first-in-the-nation 2006 universal health care law that became a model for the federal law. State officials say the website glitches have not caused that percentage to fall substantially.

On Friday, Patrick acknowledged "a tremendous amount of understandable anxiety" over the process among the public but added that no one is going to fall through the cracks. He said it's still an open question whether the website is salvageable or whether a "reset button" must be set.

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