The Associated Press

Mass. Insurance Deadline Extended For Many

BOSTON — Despite a hobbled website, Massachusetts health officials said Monday that they’ve surpassed federal target enrollment numbers ahead of a key deadline for President Obama’s health care law.

While activists in other states were rushing to sign up uninsured residents Monday, the scene in Massachusetts was a bit more muted.

In part that’s because Massachusetts already has the highest percentage of insured residents in the country, with relatively few left without coverage. But technical problems with the state’s health care website also led health care officials to push back the enrollment deadline here for those who ran into problems signing up until April 15.

Despite the troubles, officials say they’ve managed to expand coverage to more uninsured Massachusetts residents as a result of the federal law. They say they’ve enrolled 265,000 — beating the federal target enrollment number of 250,000. Many of those newly enrolled were seeking subsidized care and had to be placed into a temporary coverage program.

The 265,000 include 125,000 new applicants placed in the transitional program and 114,000 who had been enrolled in the state’s subsidized Commonwealth Care program who have been moved to Medicaid coverage as the state program is phased out.

Another 26,000 individuals have been enrolled in new plans that meet the requirements of the federal law.

The website troubles have been particularly embarrassing for Massachusetts. In 2006 the state approved a health insurance law that provided the blueprint for the federal health law.

Despite the technical troubles – the state is still deciding whether to fix the new website or scrap it and start over – officials say they’ve managed to work around the problems.

“We are very confident that the state is actually gaining in coverage,” Jean Yang, executive director of the Massachusetts Health Connector, said Monday.

Even though she wasn’t expecting a huge enrollment surge on Monday, Yang said the state’s traffic to the website and call center have been busy. The website is largely functional for those seeking non-subsidized insurance plans.

Health care activists say as frustrated as they are with the website, they’re still enrolling people in insurance.

Brian Rosman of the advocacy group Health Care For All said they were sending out a team to help hundreds of recently laid-off hospital workers in North Adams sign up for coverage.

“I still think in the end we’re again going to lead the country with the most comprehensive and most usable website,” Rosman said. “Until we get there, it’s frustration after frustration.”

Yang said the longer term goal is to get the website working smoothly by Nov. 14. That’s the beginning of the next three-month open enrollment period.

“The IT problem needs to be fixed, and it needs to be fixed right and it needs to be fixed quickly,” she said.

Yang said she also hopes to have everyone who has been placed in temporary, transitional coverage put into a permanent insurance program by then.

Those who hit technical troubles while trying to register in Massachusetts will be allowed to continue shopping through the Health Connector until April 15, but must choose a plan by that date with a first payment due April 23 for coverage beginning May 1.

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