Despite Washington, Connecticut health exchange soldiers on
By SUSAN HAIGH
Oct. 22, 2017
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — It's still business as usual for Connecticut's health insurance marketplace, despite failed congressional efforts to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's health care law and President Donald Trump's proposal to stop federal payments to insurers.
Access Health CT is continuing to gear up for this year's shortened open enrollment period, which runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 22.
As part of its stepped-up outreach campaign, Access Health CT is making it clear they're open for business. They're stressing the importance of keeping or obtaining health insurance and making people aware that financial assistance is still available. They're also underscoring that rates offered for 2018 plans will not be affected by Trump's attempt to shut off the payments which help subsidize copays and deductibles.
"We know that now, more than ever, people are confused with the mixed messages," said Andrea Ravitz, Access Health CT's marketing director.
Yolanda Bowes, community outreach director at United Community and Family Services, said many of the agency's clients have felt unsure about the future of federal health care and Access Health CT since Trump's election.
"We've been just reinforcing with people the Affordable Care Act is still the law and so far nothing has changed," she said.
Established as part of Obama's 2010 Affordable Care Act, Access Health CT has grown to serve about 98,000 individuals and has managed to keep two insurers on board — Anthem and ConnectiCare — despite market challenges.
Jim Wadleigh, the exchange's CEO, said his staff members support customers who enrolled in 2016 and those eligible to enroll throughout this year. They're also busy planning for the 2018 open enrollment period. He noted they do this amid daily uncertainty about the program.
"That shows the dedication of our teams, not letting the noise around (the ACA) impact their effort to serve Connecticut residents," he said.
Both Access Health CT and the state's Department of Insurance have taken steps to blunt the impact from such "noise." In August, state Insurance Commissioner Katherine Wade asked Anthem and ConnectiCare to amend their rate filings with the assumption that the insurer payments wouldn't be made by the federal government to the carriers. In September, Wade OK'd premium increases for silver exchange plans — the most popular — that accounted for the lack of federal money.
Ten states that run their own exchanges did not take such steps, Wadleigh said.
In the end, that has meant the majority of the Connecticut exchange's customers won't be impacted by Trump's plan. Most customers who receive financial help in Connecticut are eligible for tax credits, which are separate from the federal insurer payments. Those credits would mitigate higher premiums and in some cases could lead to more financial help.
Wadleigh said 25 percent of Access Health CT's customers do not receive financial assistance and about one-third are enrolled in silver plans. He said they'll likely be most affected by premium increases. In some cases, families that don't receive subsidies could face spending nearly 14 percent or more of their income on health care.
"I'm just sort of frustrated about the fact we are really, really putting stress on those folks in that cohort above the subsidy level," said board member Paul Philpott at Thursday's meeting. "In my opinion, we're reaching the tipping point where we're going to start seeing some increases in (the uninsured)."
Wadleigh said Access Health CT is advocating for ways to lower medical costs. In the meantime, he said the exchange will work with customers, including those who don't receive subsidies, to help them choose plans. He said they're encouraging customers not to purchase plans on or off the exchange based on cost alone.
"Our mission continues to be to increase the number of insured residents in the state of Connecticut," he said.