SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

June 16, 2014

Mass. faces July deadline, with Obamacare site looming as backup

BOSTON — Massachusetts health officials face an early July deadline to prove that their new plan to develop a functional online health insurance enrollment portal can be operational by the fall, or else the state could be forced by the Obama administration to join the federal exchange for at least a year.

In response to the deeply troubled rollout of the state’s online health marketplace, Gov. Deval Patrick and his team developed a dual-track strategy to try for a second time to build a state-based exchange with an off-the-shelf software product made by Virginia-based hCentive.

Health Connector officials since early May have been simultaneously preparing to the join the federal healthcare.gov Web exchange as a backup plan in case the hCentive solution would not be operational by the fall.

“Every day, we know that the key risk area is the aggressive timeline,” said Maydad Cohen, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff who recently took over the exchange project from Sarah Iselin, who returned to her job at Blue Cross Blue Shield after developing the strategy for the Patrick administration.

Cohen also announced that the state received approval Wednesday from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to extend through the end of the year existing subsidized Commonwealth Care plans and the temporary Medicaid coverage extended to more than 160,000 people who could not enroll in ACA plan due to the technical problems that plagued the state site. Letters to subscribers will start to be mailed out Thursday, and those individuals will most likely have to reapply during the next open enrollment period.

The extension is the second reprieve given to the state by the federal government that has allowed Connector officials to keep nearly 90,600 residents on their existing subsidized plans while the state works to make online enrollment in new Affordable Care Act-compliant plans possible. Another 126,281 Commonwealth Care subscribers were transitioned to MassHealth in January under the ACA’s new expanded Medicaid coverage.

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