After costly failure last year, Massachusetts reports successful launch of new health exchange

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BOSTON — Massachusetts officials are reporting a successful weekend launch of the state's revamped health insurance website, but cautioned of possible "hiccups" in the system with expected heavier traffic during the week.

Officials said Monday that in the first two days of the new federal open enrollment period, nearly 5,000 eligible people were immediately registered for state Medicaid coverage.

Nearly 7,000 others were able to complete the process of determining eligibility for plans that comply with the federal Affordable Care Act. They still need to review those insurance plans, choose one, and make their first month's premium payment.

The successful rollout was in sharp contrast to a year ago, when a failed health exchange forced the state to place hundreds of thousands of residents into temporary Medicaid coverage and led to a costly overhaul of the website. The website woes were also an embarrassment for the state that provided a blueprint for the federal health care law.

Maydad Cohen, a special assistant to Gov. Deval Patrick, said Monday that the new website has proven stable and reliable — handling more than 57,000 visitors over the first two days of open enrollment.

"During the weekend we saw excellent performance of the website," Cohen told reporters Monday. "We had a very successful, very exciting weekend."

Of the nearly 7,000 people deemed eligible to obtain insurance through the state's health insurance exchange during the weekend, about 3,600 individuals and families already have selected a plan and 137 already have paid their first month's premium, state Health Connector officials said.

Those numbers will continue to climb as more people sign up for insurance.

Hundreds of call representatives also are assisting those looking to sign up for coverage, having trouble with the website or are unsure how to use it.

Cohen said one of the main reasons for high call wait times is that many of those seeking one-on-one help want to go through the entire application on the phone — something that can take 45 minutes or more per application.

Cohen urged those seeking to sign up for coverage to try the website first.

As a result of the previous website troubles, the state ended up putting more than 400,000 individuals into temporary subsidized insurance programs, including MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program.

Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz said between 175,000 and 225,000 of those were expected to enroll in new coverage, including through MassHealth.

Polanowizc said the number is lower than the 400,000 because of what he called the natural "churn" of subsidized care, with individuals losing their eligibility because they've found a job that offers insurance, or have obtained health care through a spouse, or have moved out of state.

Dec. 23 is the deadline to ensure coverage that starts on Jan. 1.

Fixing the website hasn't been cheap.

The original cost of Massachusetts' website was estimated at $174 million. That has jumped to $254 million.

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