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Mass. healthcare site sees low sign-ups due to glitches

After U.S. President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that the federal healthcare website is running smoothly, people turned to the Massachusetts healthcare site, which has seen stalling sign-up rates following a series of glitches and error messages.

Jason Lefferts, director of communications at Massachusetts Health Connector, the Commonwealth’s healthcare website, said they chose to create their own healthcare website rather than use the federal website, healthcare.gov, which was launched on Oct. 1.

“We’ve been frustrated by the issues we’ve been having,” he said. “We want to make the process as easy as possible for our users. I wouldn’t say that we’re happy with how the website has worked at this point, but we’re doing everything we can to make it better as soon as possible.”

As of Tuesday, 85,009 accounts have been created on the website, and 30,522 applications have been completed, Lefferts said. There are a total of 250,000 people who need to re-enroll for health insurance by the March 31 deadline.

Because of the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2009, more than 7 million people have saved an average of $1,200 on their prescriptions, Obama said in a Tuesday press conference.

“The bottom line is this law is working and will work into the future,” he said. “People want the financial stability of health insurance, and we’re going to keep on working to fix … whatever comes up … because we know that the ultimate goal is to make sure that people have basic security and the foundation for the good health that they need.”

Of these 250,000 people who must re-enroll in Massachusetts, Lefferts said about 200,000 members receive subsidized coverage from Health Connector and about 100,000 of these members will be automatically transferred to the new health care program after January 1. About 105,000 members must take action on their own by March 31.

“We’re confident that they’re going to take action before the deadline,” he said. “That’s the key here. It’s before the deadline. It’s not December 4th. It’s by March. That’s what we care about.”

Julie Kaviar, deputy communications director at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said Massachusetts has been the model for national healthcare reform and is confident that more Massachusetts residents will apply for the healthcare they need.

“We have achieved near-universal health care at 97 percent,” she said. “No other state even comes close. With the new reforms made possible by Obamacare and the increases in [subsidized] coverage and investment in Community Health Centers, we will be able to provide even greater access to affordable health care in the communities where people live and help more small business provide affordable coverage to their employees.”

Several residents said they are concerned the glitches in the Massachusetts healthcare website will discourage people who need care from applying, but they’re looking forward to seeing how Obamacare will help people once the issues are resolved.

Marianne Oglo, 43, of the South End, said the low sign-up numbers on the website could reflect a lack of communication between the Commonwealth and the people who need to enroll.

“It may be an awareness problem,” she said. “How would they know to go to that website? First, people have to find out about it. Once they do, it’s about education. There has to be a follow up. People will just say they’ll do it later and then they’ll miss the boat.”

Colin Smith, 29, of Dorchester, said when the glitches in the application process are fixed, word-of-mouth will make the website more popular.

“These glitches will slow the whole thing down,” he said. “Hopefully, they can get it right quickly. I don’t anticipate that the pace [of people signing up for Obamacare] will stay the same. Once people start hearing that it’s working right, a lot more people will enroll in it and the pace will speed up.”

Ben Burds, 24, of Charlestown, said Obamacare has the potential to prevent significant problems in the community and is certain that the glitches will be smoothed out.

“It’s changing the culture,” he said. “We’re becoming more globalized and trying to make sure everyone is on an equal playing field to some degree and that people aren’t just falling off the wayside and fending for themselves in the streets. There are going to be growing pains. It’s just going to take time to adjust and adapt to it.”

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