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Computer snag leaves subscribers uncovered

Commonweath Care neglects 950 people

At her doctor's office last week, Ellen Gill-Stinebeck received some disturbing news. It wasn't a diagnosis. Rather, the Stoughton resident learned that she had no insurance coverage, although she had just paid for a state-subsidized policy.

She left the office without seeing the doctor, deciding that her struggle to contain her blood pressure could wait.

Gill-Stinebeck was among 950 people who got caught in a computer glitch as they tried to enroll in the Commonwealth Care insurance program, according to a state official.

Although they had paid by the July 20 deadline for coverage guaranteed to begin Aug. 1, their new insurance companies were not notified and the individuals were not put on the rolls.

When she called the state to complain, Gill-Stinebeck said, she was initially told that her coverage wouldn't be effective until September and that the state couldn't do anything about it.

"I think I can weather the storm," she said. "But this could be life-threatening for people who think they're covered."

By late yesterday, the state had fixed the problem for about 150 people and was in the process of activating coverage for the remaining 800, retroactive to Aug. 1, said Dick Powers, a spokesman for the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, which oversees the subsidized insurance program.

"If they have a problem and show up at the doctor's office, they will be covered," Powers said.

Powers said the problem occurred after the state changed some computer codes that were supposed to automatically send an electronic message to the authority once subscribers paid their first insurance bill. The codes failed, and the state didn't learn about it until Aug. 1.

Gill-Stinebeck, a psychotherapist who is trying to build a practice in Massachusetts, understands that there are start-up problems in the new program that has now enrolled more than 92,000 people. And she is pleased to pay $129 a month for coverage, compared with the $700 she was paying previously for private insurance.

But Gill-Stinebeck was upset that she had filled out all the forms, followed the rules, then got what she considered a flippant response to her problem.

"It felt like they were just trying to get rid of me," she said.