Despite uncertainty surrounding the future of the Affordable Care Act, Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance marketplace launched under the sweeping federal legislation championed by the Obama administration, posted another year of net gains in open enrollment for the 2018 calendar year.
“We had a very good, excellent year,” said Access Health CT CEO James Wadleigh. The exchange enrolled 114,134 customers during the latest open enrollment period, which ran from Nov. 1 to Dec. 22. That is up 2.3 percent from 2017’s figure of 111,524.
About 74 percent of this year’s enrollees signed up for health insurance with some sort of federal financial aid, such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Wadleigh said.
Nearly 24 percent of enrollees were in the “young invincibles” group, aged 18 through 34, which Wadleigh identified as one of the organization’s main target groups. Nearly 12 percent of enrollees were new customers; 18 percent were returning customers who had a policy previously but not in 2017; and 70 percent of existing customers returned in 2018. Some 2017 customers found employment with group health insurance coverage or moved out of state, Access Health officials noted.
“It was a nice surprise,” Wadleigh said of the enrollment numbers, noting that the recent enrollment period was the shortest — less than two months — since the exchange was formed under the Affordable Care Act in 2011. Last year, open enrollment ran for three months, while the state exchange’s first open enrollment period was six months.
Six of Connecticut’s eight counties, including Fairfield County, saw increases in enrollment, Wadleigh said. although final county-by-county figures are not yet available. The two counties that did not record increases had decreases that were “so slight they were basically flat,” he said.
“There are a number of reasons for the increase and it will take us until we complete our annual springtime survey to know them all,” he said.
Access Health’s expansion from two to 10 brick-and-mortar locations around the state — including sites in Bridgeport, Danbury, and Stamford —where residents could sign up certainly played a part in the increase, Wadleigh said. More than 6,400 people visited those offices, with 4,558 enrolling. Each of AHCT’s five enrollment fairs, including one in Fairfield, were attended by an average of 150 to 200 people, he said.
In addition, more than 220,000 people visited the Access Health website, and 70 percent of those visitors enroll there. Of the 267,000 residents who called its contact center, 30 percent enrolled. Health insurance brokers assisted 35 percent of enrollees. Nearly 17,000 people used the exchange’s online Plan Comparison Tool to help select a plan.
As of last October, about 3.5 percent, or 125,000, Connecticut residents remained uninsured, according to Access Health CT marketing director Andrea Ravitz. Connecticut’s uninsured rate stood at about 8 percent, or 286,000 people, when the exchange started. Updated figures on the state’s uninsured will not be available until spring.
Wadleigh said he continues to have discussions with various insurance carriers about joining Access Health CT, whose only active participants are ConnectiCare and Anthem. In September 2016, after several weeks of uncertainty, ConnectiCare agreed to remain with Anthem on the exchange, and last October announced it would participate in Connecticut’s Small Business Health Options Program exchange in 2018. The Access Health CT program offers health insurance options to employers with 50 or fewer full-time employees.
About 83,000 of the state exchange’s 2018 enrollees chose ConnectiCare plans, Wadleigh said, and 31,000 signed up with Anthem.
Access Health CT officials continue to monitor changes to the Affordable Care Act, including the recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which eliminated Obamacare’s individual mandate requiring most individuals to have health insurance coverage.
Noting that change does not go into effect until 2019, Wadleigh said he expects to continue conversations on the subject with Gov. Dannel Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman — who also serves as Access Health chair — and state legislators.
Wadleigh said he is also talking with leaders of other state health insurance exchanges, including Covered California’s Executive Director Peter Lee, about what can be done with regard to the elimination of the individual mandate. Officials are particularly concerned that without the health insurance requirement, consumers without serious health issues — usually members of the young invincibles group — will eschew purchasing coverage. That would result in rising premium costs, which in turn could price lower-income residents out of the market, he said.
“Uncompensated care in Connecticut now costs somewhere around $250 to $500 million a year, which the state has to cover for those individuals,” Wadleigh said.
Wyman and Malloy said the latest AHCT figures prove that the Obamacare system works.
“These numbers demonstrate a consistently strong demand for the exchange and affordable health care,” Wyman said. “They sharpen the focus on the importance of the Affordable Care Act and why the federal government should be working to improve it.”
“Because of the Afford-able Care Act,” said Malloy, “thousands in Connecticut have gained health coverage that they previously did not have access to and in return, greater access to the care and advice they need to live healthy, productive lives. These numbers show why it is so important to continue these efforts.”
“Despite the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine access to care,” the governor added, “our state has been a national leader in health and human services, especially the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and we want to continue to make gains that support public health care and economic security.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, in a statement decried Republican efforts to dismantle the ACA. “The Trump administration tried to prevent people from signing up for health care at every turn,” he said. “The numbers released today speak for themselves — people in Connecticut know the value in signing up for health care and the Affordable Care Act is working. Now it’s time for Republicans to join Democrats in working togethe6r to keep what’s working in the Affordable Care Act and improve what’s not.”
At Access Health CT, “Ultimately our goal is to be successful every year,” Wadleigh said. “Open enrollment is kind of like a final exam for our organization. We prepare all year long for it, and ask a lot of questions as to why we’re doing this or that before deciding on
“This year it looks like a lot of those decisions paid off.”