On Jan. 1, Connecticut became the only state to surpass the federal government’s enrollment projections under the Affordable Care Act.
The Congressional Budget Office predicted that seven million Americans — and 33 thousand in Connecticut — would enroll in private healthcare plans through the nation’s new healthcare exchanges set up by the ACA. By Dec. 23, the last day to sign up to ensure coverage on Jan. 1, 34,295 Conn. residents had enrolled in private plans, with an additional 27,858 residents opting into the state’s expanded Medicaid program. The more than 62 thousand residents newly covered under the ACA represent 20 percent of the previously 344,000 uninsured Conn. residents.
Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan said he believes there are three reasons why the exchange has been effective thus far: a stable website in comparison with HealthCare.gov, customer ease on the website and in pop-up healthcare stores, and extensive outreach efforts.
“Buying health insurance is very complex and very confusing, and people are afraid because it’s a very expensive purchase,” Counihan said. “Our goal has been to help them better navigate the process, and we focused on doing a few things very well.”
Starting in October, the exchange began offering Medicaid programs and selling private insurance plans with premiums subsidized by the government. Access Health CT developed an easily accessible website in 70 languages that allows users to compare plans offered from the three participating insurance companies — Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut, ConnectiCare, and HealthyCT, a non-profit organization.
In addition to the website’s offerings, Access Health CT opened up two retail stores in New Haven and New Britain, offering state residents the opportunity to explore their options and sign up for coverage with the help of personal assistance, a model that Counihan has likened to an apple store genius bar. Connecticut is one of 14 states operating a state health exchange rather than deferring to HealthCare.gov, and it is the only state to offer retail stores.
Following the Jan. 1 deadline, Access Health CT is working to enroll more uninsured residents by March 31, the last day that residents can register for health insurance and avoid the penalty for remaining uninsured in 2014. Counihan said advertising, community outreach workers and Access Health CT’s network of 300 in-person assisters throughout the state will play key roles in the exchange’s outreach. Since October, Access Health has held over 100 town hall meetings, called health chats, and conducted over 70 enrollment fairs
“We’ve been organizing events in the New Haven region largely because it’s easier to schedule large events that residents can come to at one time as opposed to making individual appointments,” said Quiana Lewis ’12, the Access Health Navigator Coordinator for the New Haven region. “These events are usually located in consumer
The New Haven Health Department, an Access Health CT partner, holds two or three events per week focused in the region to encourage health care sign ups, while Access Health CT, as a whole, holds events almost every day at locations throughout the state.
Lewis underscored that these enrollment events are key to helping assisters, members of community organizations who work part time to help enroll Conn. residents.
“Enrollment events give these assisters a chance to sit with a captive audience,” Lewis said.
Lewis added that assisters provide the face to face, personalized assistance that is critical to encourage Conn. residents — especially younger residents and minorities — to enroll.
“Some people don’t have internet, and many never had insurance, so this is a whole new experience,” Lewis said.
Counihan stressed that there are several improvements that the exchange hopes to make going forward, including adding more support tools to make it easier to buy insurance, such as an avatar that would provide website visitors with answers to a compilation of the most frequently asked questions. In 2014, Access Health CT also plans to focus on developing automated systems for processes such as health plan certifications. The exchange will launch a separate Spanish website by the end of the month to reach members of minority communities as well.
“The fundamental thing to realize is that this is a 3-4 year implementation situation,” Counihan said. “It’s hard to make value judgments about success or failure right now.”
Connecticut residents can continue to enroll in healthcare coverage through the state exchange through March 31, but the starting date for those policies will be pushed to a later date. Those looking to buy health insurance now have until today to sign up for coverage that will not go into effect until Feb. 1.