Mass. Health Connector Website Costs Rise To $281 Million

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The cost of setting up the Massachusetts health insurance website under the rules of Obamacare is rising again, this time by $47.2 million.

Additional fixes bring the total price tag for the Connector site that failed two years ago and the new flawed replacement to $281 million. And this isn’t the final bill.

Connector leaders are considering two significant changes -- a new payment tool and an easy physician search option — which could push the costs over $300 million.

'It Shouldn’t Be That Difficult'

A lot of the current Connector website headaches begin when members try to make a payment.

Paul Conway, a 61-year-old self-employed carpenter from Arlington, signed up for insurance through the Connector at the beginning of the year. He sent in his first $700 payment and began receiving monthly bills.

"I’m holding one in my hand," Conway says during a phone interview. "When I look at, it says 'previous balance zero, past due balance zero,' so I just assumed it was going to the right place."

It wasn't. The payments he'd sent in, which now total $3,500, went to Conway’s old account through the Connector. It wasn’t until he called his health plan with a question that he realized he’d been sending payments to the wrong Connector account and was uninsured.

"Thank God I haven’t had any issues because I have been going four months without health insurance," Conways says.

Conway has spent those four months trying to clear up the problem through the Connector call center, dialing the 1-800 number and hitting prompts that lead to a dead end. He'd call back and sit on hold. Each time he reached a person, he had to tell his story from the beginning. He couldn’t be transferred to anyone in billing — they would have to call him back. In four months, he got one call back, on a Friday evening at 6:30 p.m., which he missed.

"I just don’t think it should take four months to clear up this problem; it shouldn’t be that difficult," Conway says.

He is worried he'll have to pay a penalty for the months he was listed as uninsured. A Connector spokesman says Conway should have the option of a waiver, or could appeal.

'It Should Operate Like A Bank'

Louis Gutierrez, the Connector executive director, agrees: Once a member chooses a plan and makes a payment, he or she should be all set.

"The whole process from that point forward, to you being insured through the carrier, should operate like clockwork, it should operate like a bank," Gutierrez says.

But bringing the Connector site to that level of precision will cost about $47 million.

"Right now, there are just many bumps in the road," Gutierrez says. "We’re getting better at smoothing the bumps, but I could go almost any point in the process."

He mentions a problem that cropped up just this week, in which Connector members who caught up on insurance payments were moved from delinquent to paid, but their coverage was not renewed.

"That’s a big problem and it’s that kind of thing we need to work through," Gutierrez says.

Still, the Connector is making progress. Wait times at the call center are down, most refunds have been paid, and the backlog of account changes is clearing. The Connector will find out if confidence is rebounding when it launches a survey option through the call center later this year.


Headshot of Martha Bebinger

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



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