Conn. marketplace enrolls thousands on deadline

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — More than 6,700 people enrolled in health insurance plans on the last day in Connecticut for obtaining coverage that will begin next week, officials said, making it the best signup day since the state’s insurance marketplace began open enrollment Oct. 1.

A total of 62,153 residents have now enrolled in plans that start Jan. 1, with more than 34,000 in private insurance plans and the rest in government-funded Medicaid plans, Access Health CT announced Tuesday. Its goal had been to enroll 60,000 people by the end of December.

“We’re very pleased with how things worked out,” Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan told The Associated Press on Tuesday. He said he had anticipated the marketplace would sign up fewer than 6,000 people Monday. The organization eventually hopes to sign up a total of 100,000 people by the time the open enrollment period ends on March 31.

Business was brisk at Access Health’s storefronts in New Britain and New Haven on Monday as well. Counihan said about 150 people signed up for coverage at each location.

Counihan acknowledged there was some confusion about Monday’s deadline after the U.S. government announced that day that it was extending its own deadline for those using the federal Web portal. That extension did not apply to Connecticut consumers, who had until midnight Monday to sign up to get coverage for Jan. 1 and beyond.

Counihan said he expects some customers will have complaints, both legitimate and illegitimate, that they couldn’t sign up by midnight. He said Access Health will try to work with those people to get them insured.

“We’re not in the business to be punitive. We’re not trying to set examples by hurting people,” he said. “Our job is to get people insured and we’re going to try to work with these cases as much as possible to show flexibility.”

While he hasn’t heard any such complaints so far, he said the fact there were about 230 concurrent users on Access Health’s website Tuesday morning would typically mean people were still looking to purchase insurance plans. He said they could possibly be confused by the federal extension.

Because they predicted a rush of last-minute insurance shoppers, Access Health CT negotiated with the health insurance providers to give consumers some extra time to pay their first insurance premium payment. Counihan said the money must be received by the insurance company by Jan. 10.

Those who didn’t sign up by Monday have until Jan. 15 to enroll in coverage that will begin on Feb. 1.

Counihan said Access Health has learned some important lessons from this first deadline of the federal health care rollout. The biggest one, he said, is the need for more staff.

While the marketplace expected phone call activity to the call center to double, Counihan said it actually tripled. Wait times dragged on for 45 minutes to an hour before a caller could speak with a specialist, despite additional staff added in recent days by the private vendor, Maximus Inc.

“We’re better off having more staff than less and we’re going to be much better prepared for the surge in March than we were in December,” Counihan said.

Some calls were from people who’ve not yet received any notification from their new insurers that they actually have coverage. Counihan said data from Monday’s applicants were transferred overnight to the insurers. He said most enrollees have already received premium statements and those who signed up later should be receiving them soon.

The call center and the two storefronts will be closed on Christmas Day.

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