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'All The Confusion' Surrounding Mass. Health Connector's Open Enrollment Period03:54Download

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The Massachusetts Health Connector website (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
The Massachusetts Health Connector website (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The Health Connector website goes live Wednesday for hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents expected to shop for health insurance for the coming year.

But after a year packed with pledges to repeal the Affordable Care Act and recent funding cuts, what’s left for many people is a lot of confusion.

So, let’s clear some things up.

First, the Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land, and residents can once again plug in their income information and find out what kind of insurance assistance is available, said Audrey Gasteier, the Health Connector’s chief of policy and strategy.

"We are still here, we are full force," she said, "and nothing has changed [in Massachusetts] with respect to our commitment to universal coverage and providing people a great experience accessing health insurance."

The question is whether that insurance will be affordable.

A single mom with one child who makes more than $65,000 a year will likely see a big hike. She's probably better off buying from a health plan directly rather than from the Connector, where rates are tied to those insurance payments President Trump cut.

But get this: Another single mom with one child who earns less than $65,000 a year will either not see any increase, or she may get a bigger tax break this year because health insurance tax credits are going up to keep up with higher premiums.

OK, that’s the prediction for rates that go live Wednesday morning, but what will it look like when you or your kids actually start to shop?

"We don’t know yet what to expect," said Deolinda Daveiga, outreach coordinator for the nonprofit consumer group Health Care For All.

She has been out at health centers and community meetings on behalf of HCFA and is worried about what several people have told her.

"They are not going to apply or renew for next year, because they have heard about rate increases and also, all the confusion about the law," Daveiga said.

To combat confusion, anxiety or inertia, HCFA is running ads in three languages: English, Portuguese and Spanish.

The Connector will have 400 customer service assistants answering phones at peak times and is spending $1.6 million to fund so-called "navigators" at 16 agencies for anyone who needs one-on-one help.

Shannon Eldredge, a commercial fisherman in Chatham, has spent hours training so she can translate the numbing, chaotic world of health insurance for other members of the nonprofit Fishing Partnership.

Eldredge said she does not try to explain the politics of health care.

"Whatever comes out in the news, we just take it with a grain of salt and absorb the frustrations from families and get to the bottom line of making sure that they're covered and healthy and safe," she said.

But with a White House determined to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, many of those working to keep the law's options available wonder what may be coming during open enrollment.

Rosemarie Day, president of the consulting firm Day Health Strategies, points out the Trump administration has already said the federal shopping website will be closed for 12 hours on Sundays (all but one), and at least one overnight for maintenance.

"Any one of those kinds of messages has a bit of a chilling effect on folks," Day said. "But I think there are other advocacy organizations and such who are going to try to counter those messages and get people to focus on this shortened period of time to sign up."

That's another point of confusion. The open enrollment period is shorter this year for most of the country and ends Dec. 15, but in Massachusetts it runs through Jan. 23. (Here's NPR's list of the other 10 states plus the District of Columbia that run their own ACA sites and marketplaces.)

And by the way, the IRS says it will still fine anyone who does not have health insurance this tax year. The individual mandate is still in effect.

This segment aired on November 1, 2017.

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Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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