Massachusetts Health Connector Extends One Deadline

Figures released Monday show that more than 25,000 people have selected, signed up and paid for coverage through the connector

Tuesday midnight remains the deadline for Massachusetts residents with health insurance expiring Jan. 1 to pick a new plan. But with the Health Connector website and phone lines jammed Tuesday, officials decided to extend the deadline for people to make their first monthly payments on the plan, which is now midnight Sunday.

The Health Connector office at 133 Portland Street in Boston saw a steady stream of visitors Tuesday as people who struggled with glitches and hassles online came to get plans in person. Throughout the day there were reports of people spending an hour or longer on hold to reach call-center agents to sign up for coverage.

"I don’t like computers, and they don’t like me, bottom line. That’s the truth," said a Brockton man named Lonnie, who did not want to give his last name.

Chris Nybakken of Brookline said he came to the office because "the website didn't put the right data in, so I had to come show my Real ID passport, instead of doing it online. There were a few kinks in the system, but in the end I got what I came for."

At the Boston nonprofit advocacy group Health Care For All, the help center was swamped with calls to agents who are able to serve people who speak English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Health Care For All CEO Amy Whitcomb Slemmer said extending the deadline for initial payment on plans selected by midnight Tuesday was "incredibly helpful. I think that people can go on the website today and figure out which plan best meets their needs and then they have a few days' grace period to pay for it."

Whitcomb Slemmer said compared to a year ago when the initial RomneyCare-to-ObamaCare transition led to an effective collapse of the Connector website, this year saw many fewer problems.

"The website is robust and working. We really have taken to heart the lessons learned from the last year, and today is the day that we're putting them to good use."

Josh Archambault, policy director with The Pioneer Institute, a free-market-oriented Boston think tank that has criticize Governor Deval Patrick’s administration for the costly and bungled initial site rollout, said based on research he and his staff have done, "Website glitches have forced many to call in for additional help. Wait times are well over an hour, even with over 700 employees taking calls. The enrollment numbers for subsidized coverage are relatively low, and could jeopardize the sustainability of the Connector if more don't up by February of next year."

Consumers’ verdicts were mixed. Lonnie, from Brockton, agreed that "they were very good, very quick, very organized, and very courteous."

But Bruce Kaye of Quincy, who had to come in in person because the website wouldn’t properly record his payments and credit him as an enrolled insure, said, "It's not the greatest organization in the world as far as I'm concerned, and I'm a liberal Democrat. I'm not anti-government but the way they run it is pretty mediocre. The people who work there, I feel like they’re doing their best, but whoever’s in charge, it doesn’t feel like anybody’s in charge."

If you need health insurance through the connector, you can find the website here. You can also call 1-877-623-6765. You can also visit a walk-in center at 133 Portland St. in Boston or 146 Main St. in Worcester. those centers are open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

With videographer Sean G. Colahan

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