Massachusetts: New $254 Million Health Exchange Website is working

November 18, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Posted in Affordable Care Act, Health and Human Services, Health Care, Health Insurance Marketplace, HHS, Medical, Wellness | Leave a comment
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by Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — 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.

CVS to Stop Selling Cigarettes

February 6, 2014 at 9:29 am | Posted in Health and Human Services, Wellness | Leave a comment
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CVS announced this week that it will no longer sell cigarettes at its 7,600 stores nationwide by October 1, 2014. CVS posted the following rationale on its website (www.cvs.com):

“Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is simply the right thing to do for the good of our customers and our company. The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose – helping people on their path to better health.

“As the delivery of health care evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing n expanded role through our 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners. By removing tobacco products from our retail shelves, we will better serve our patients, clients and health care providers while positioning CVS Caremark for future growth as a health care company. Cigarettes and tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered. This is the right thing to do.”

The decision was applauded by HHS Secretary Sebelius as one of “considerable impact.”

A copy of Secretary Sebelius’ statement is here: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2014pres/02/20140205a.html

U.S. Supreme Court to Address Constitutionality of Affordable Care Act’s Contraception Mandate On Private Employers

November 26, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Posted in Affordable Care Act, Compliance, Creditable Coverage, Essential Health Benefits, Federal Laws, Health Care, Medical, PPACA, Regulations, Wellness | Leave a comment
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The Supreme Court announced today that it will accept for hearing and decision the constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraception mandate as it applies to private employers who have a religious objection to the mandate. The contraception mandate is part of one of the ten required health essential benefits (women’s preventive health services) required of health plans under ACA.

There is currently a disagreement among the federal Circuit Courts of Appeals as to its constitutionality. It is reported that the hearing will be this spring.

HHS Claims that Affordable Care Act Extended Free Preventive Care to 71 million Americans with Private Health Insurance in 2011 and 2012

March 19, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Posted in Affordable Care Act, Health and Human Services, Medical, Wellness | Leave a comment
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Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, announced today that about 71 million Americans in private health insurance plans received coverage for at least one free preventive health care service, such as a mammogram or flu shot, in 2011 and 2012 because of the Affordable Care Act. The new data was released in a report from HHS today.

A copy of the full HHS Press Release can be found here: Read the Press Release

Much Work Remains on Finalizing 2013 Massachusetts Wellness Tax Credit: Hearings to be Held in February

January 24, 2013 at 10:15 am | Posted in Department of Public Health, Employment Law, Health and Human Services, Health Care, Regulations, State Laws, Wellness | Leave a comment
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Below is a recent communication received from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health:

The Wellness Tax Credit application that was posted on http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/consumer/wellness/health-promotion/
has been removed.  The application will not be final until the Wellness Tax Credit regulations are fully approved.

In January 2013, the Public Health Council approved emergency regulations for the Wellness Tax Credit for Massachusetts small employers.  For the emergency regulations please go to:  http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/laws-regs/dph/proposed-regulations/wellness-tax-credit-incentive.html

The next step will be to have public hearings on these regulations. Hearings are scheduled for:

    • Monday February 11, 11:00 am, Public Health Council Room, 250 Washington Street, 2nd Floor, Boston, MA 02108
    • Thursday February 14, 1:00 pm, 23 Service Center, Northampton, MA  01060

The Department invites the public to participate in these hearings and to provide input on the regulations. Following the hearings, the Public Health Council will vote on final regulations.  After the final regulations are adopted, the Department anticipates that employers will be able to start applying for the credit.

We apologize for any inconvenience.

Massachusetts Wellness Tax Credit Application Process Likely Delayed Until April 1, 2013

January 18, 2013 at 10:42 am | Posted in Department of Public Health, DPH, Regulations, State Laws, Wellness | Leave a comment
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The Protector Group has had several communications with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) this week about the mechanics of applying for the $10,000 wellness tax credit. As we stated in an earlier ALERT, the pool of available credit is fixed on an annual basis, underscoring the need for employers to apply as soon as possible if they want to secure the best chance of application approval.

Here is what we have learned in the past couple of days:

  1. DPH has prepared a draft application and guidance, which can be found at this link:  http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/consumer/wellness/health-promotion/. DPH’s desire is that all applications will be submitted through an on-line application process that has yet to be created.
  2. The likely “kick off” date for submitting applications will be April 1, 2014, although there is an outside chance it could happen as early as March 1, 2013.
  3. Once the application process starts, DPH will accept applications through December 31, 2013 for the 2013 calendar year process.

We will keep you updated and issue a new ALERT once the wellness tax credit regulations and application process are finalized.

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