(Boston Herald)- The states health insurance connector the highly touted agency that aims to bring cheap medical care to the masses has turned into a legal pit bull by aggressively going after a growing number of Bay Staters who say they cant afford mandated insurance or the penalties imposed for not having it. The Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority is cracking down on more than 3,000 residents who are fighting state fines, and has even hired a private law firm to force the health insurance scofflaws to pay penalties of up to $2,000 a year. All told, more than 7,700 people have appealed state fines for not having health insurance, according to connector spokesman Richard Powers. The agency has hired several private attorneys at $50 an hour to hear many of the appeals, and some 3,150 of them have been denied and the losers told to pay up. The connector has also hired the Hub law firm Bowman & Penski at $125 an hour to defend itself against 13 lawsuits filed by fed-up taxpayers who insist they cant afford state required insurance premiums or the escalating fines. National watchdogs say the Bay States battles with cash-strapped taxpayers foreshadow troubles on the horizon for the Obama administrations health-care plan. Every problem that Massachusetts is running into right now, the federal government will confront in 2014, said Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the conservative Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.