Massachusetts Offices Overwhelmed By Number Of State Health Insurance Plan Applicants

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Thousands of Massachusetts residents are unable to enroll instate-subsidized health insurance plans because the number ofapplicants is overwhelming state offices, the Boston Globe reports. According to the Globe, as many as 50% of applicants for MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program, and Commonwealth Care,a program under MassHealth that provides fully or partially subsidizedinsurance, are forced to submit paperwork multiple times becauseoriginal documents are being lost at state offices, and many applicantsare receiving contradictory information about whether they qualify forthe programs.

Although the number of people affected isunclear, the delays have resulted in thousands of residents failing toobtain health insurance by the state-mandated July 1 deadline.Penalties for not obtaining coverage will not be assessed until Dec.31.

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"What we're experiencing is the stress of success,"MassHealth Director Thomas Dehner said, adding, "We are seeing anenormous spike (in applications), and processing times are longer thanthey need to be." When the law passed, officials estimated that between140,000 and 212,000 residents would qualify for Commonwealth Care andthat an additional 70,000 to 89,000 would qualify for MassHealth.

Todate, nearly 105,000 people have enrolled in Commonwealth Care --21,000 more than projected for the July 1 deadline -- and 57,000 haveenrolled in MassHealth. During the two weeks before and one week afterthe deadline, offices received more than 18,000 applications. Thenumber of applications has declined this month, but there still isnearly double the number of applications MassHealth received last yearbefore implementing Commonwealth Care.

Dehner said the stateis reaching its goal of responding to applications within five days forthose who apply electronically, but about half of the applications areon paper and are taking about 22 days to complete. According to Dehner,the state is authorizing overtime for MassHealth employees to reducethe backlog. MassHealth also is seeking to allow electronic signatureson applications to reduce the amount of paperwork, and the agency isretraining workers to ensure they are providing clear, accurateinformation to applicants. In addition, MassHealth is establishing anombudsman to help with individual problems (Dembner, Boston Globe, 8/11).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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