Mass. Insurance Commissioner Joseph Murphy and Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick rejected U.S. Pres. Barack Obama’s request Monday for an extension period on expiring healthcare plans after one month of U.S. citizens attempting to enroll in the federal plan.
“To change course at this time, and delay certain market reforms, could cause confusion and significant market disruption,” Murphy said in a Monday letter to Obama.
Obama said Thursday that people can enroll back into their previous healthcare plans for another year because Healthcare.gov, which launched on Oct. 1, has been scrutinized due to website glitches that prevented applicants from purchasing healthcare plans online. As of Saturday, only 106,185 Americans selected health plans through the healthcare marketplace when federal officials projected there would be 500,000.
Patrick said in a statement Monday that Massachusetts would not extend expiring healthcare plans for people who are required to switch to the Affordable Care Act.
“Thanks to the success of healthcare reform here in the Commonwealth, sub-standard plans are not part of our marketplace,” he said. “Our experience shows why minimum insurance standards are necessary to assure adequate coverage for all.”
Alec Loftus, communications director for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services at the Governor’s office, said the Affordable Care Act is intended to increase coverage to the middle class and continue to provide for those in need.
“The Affordable Care Act is overwhelmingly beneficial for Massachusetts,” he said. “It creates new protections to ensure that your insurance plan covers you when you need it the most. It expands coverage for young adults and strengthens our primary care system to support community health centers and it also rewards the quality of care rather than quantity so that it does have an impact on lower income class as well.”
To ensure the efficiency and guaranteed coverage of the ACA, Patrick asked the delegation in a Friday letter to reject requests for an extension period because of the harmful side effects it may have. The extension period would allow non-compliant healthcare plans to become permanent, potentially increasing the number of people with plans that do not fully cover them.
“Permitting plans to be permanently non-compliant means the pool of individuals who do purchase plans through the marketplaces will likely be sicker on average, and their options will be more expensive and constrained,” he said.
Patrick said it is unnecessary to create an extension for a state that is already well-versed in transition since Massachusetts was the first states to pass universal healthcare reform.
“We benefit in Massachusetts from broad, bipartisan support for health reform and the willingness of our legislature to make refinements to our plan as we go,” he said. “The President does not enjoy that collaboration with the Congress, and the American people suffer as a result.”
Lora Pellegrini, president and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, said the extension period would be unnecessary and only slow down the transition process since Massachusetts has offered affordable healthcare for years.
“Massachusetts is in a unique position because we have done many of the reforms that are included in the Affordable Care Act, including Guaranteed Issue, or the right of anyone to be able to get health insurance even if they have a preexisting condition,” she said. “We would not be opposed if the state decided that we should just move forward with the products that have been filed because we have less issues than other states.”
Some residents said they believe the Commonwealth should use the transition period to focus on keeping those who must switch plans informed and aware of the process.
“Given an opportunity, I think it [Affordable Care] will transfer into a better healthcare system than what we had in the past,” said Jim Everett, 70, of Fenway. “But I want everyone to be able to get coverage and I am a little disturbed that there are people who still won’t get coverage under this plan.”
Leslie Grant, 48, of Allston, said she agrees with the governor’s recommendation to cut out the transition to Affordable Care.
“Massachusetts residents know that we have to have healthcare through MassHealth and that it’s the test plan for Obamacare,” she said. “Because we’re used to it, the next step is for us to transition. It will be easy for us because we’re used to having MassHealth.”
Brian Hansen, 66, of Roslindale, said he trusts the governor’s decisions for healthcare.
“The governor is right in doing what he is doing because we are the template for Obamacare,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, if he thinks the way to go is this way, I’m all for it and I’m with him on it because we are the template for the entire country. I trust him enough to know what he’s doing.”