Mass. Faces Deluge of Applications for Mandatory Health Coverage

August 13, 2007

Massachusetts state offices have been overwhelmed with applications for state-subsidized health insurance, leaving thousands of people to wait months for coverage needed to comply with a new state law that requires every adult to be insured.

Health care advocates say paperwork is getting lost in state offices and applicants are getting contradictory information about whether they qualify, The Boston Globe reported Saturday.

State officials have acknowledged the delays. They said more than 6,000 people a week applied in the two weeks before and the week after a July 1 deadline for coverage, due in part to a statewide advertising campaign.

Thomas Dehner, director of MassHealth, the state Medicaid program, told the Globe the state is authorizing overtime to reduce the backlog of applications. MassHealth will allow electronic signatures to reduce paperwork and will establish an ombudsman to address individual problems, he said.

MassHealth handles applications for fully subsidized insurance and for full or partially subsidized insurance that can be obtained under a new program called Commonwealth Care.

When the state law for insurance passed, officials estimated that between 140,000 and 212,000 residents would qualify for Commonwealth Care, and between 70,000 to 89,000 for MassHealth. So far, nearly 105,000 people are enrolled in Commonwealth Care, which is 21,000 more than they projected for the July 1 deadline. Another 57,000 have enrolled in MassHealth.

Dehner said the state’s goal is to respond to applicants within five days, and that the state is meeting that goal for most of the people who apply electronically. About half the applications are on paper, which takes an average of 22 days to handle, he said.

Officials said earlier this week that there were delays processing checks for the first month’s premium, postponing coverage for about 950 people, but that the issue has been resolved.

No one will face a penalty for missing the July deadline if they are insured by Dec. 31.

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