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Health Exchange Braces For Rough Launch

William Weir

August 01, 2013

When the state's public health exchange launches in October, it will be confusing, a little clunky and time-consuming, say the people overseeing the launch.

Wednesday, they met to focus on how to make it easier.

Access Health CT's chief executive, Kevin Counihan, said that he expects "low satisfaction" among consumers at the start of the health exchange and that it could be up to three years before that turns around.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, private health insurance plans for coverage will be for sale starting Oct. 1 in an online marketplace known as a public health exchange. The coverage will begin Jan. 1.

It's an entirely new system, Counihan said, and will necessarily go through some bumps.

"When people use it, I think they'll find it's brand new, and a little clunky probably," he said.

To that end, Counihan said, the staff of Health Access CT will include assistants and brokers to help applicants get through the process.

"We are anticipating that roughly 3 percent will get through the application process without help," he said.

The committee discussed ways to improve the system and ways to measure their progress.

"There's awareness, satisfaction, call center metrics -- a variety of ways that we would want to quantify performance," Counihan said. "The number one goal for us I think has got to be enrollment. Improving enrollment would be a key metric."

Improving the time it takes to purchase an insurance policy is another goal.

Access Health CT will allow for enrollment over the phone, online and in person at one of the six Access Health CT storefronts or at a federally qualified health center. There will also be weekly enrollment sessions in certain communities, said Kathleen Tallarita, spokeswoman for the Access Health CT.

The call center will have about 100 people answering phones, she said, possibly more if call volume is more than anticipated. Officials for the health exchange have estimated 100,000 to 130,000 will enroll the first year.

Application for enrollment could be a lengthy process, said Peter Van Loon, chief operating officer for Health Access CT. He estimates that applicants will be on the phone or computer for "45 minutes and maybe longer."

"It's an involved process with Social Security numbers, your wage information and wage information of others," he said. "We've kicked off our training and education system. This is not a case of 'build it and they will come.' We have to educate people, because insurance isn't simple."

Part of that education, Counihan said, is just getting people aware of what the health exchange is. In Connecticut, he said, about 30 percent of people are aware of the health exchange -- about three times the national average.

The consumer advisory committee of Access Health CT also met Wednesday. Much of the discussion focused on how to make it easier for consumers to compare plans on the exchange. Five insurance carriers have so far submitted plans.

Some of the committee members were concerned that health providers could be certified before Access Health CT thoroughly compares the plans' networks to make sure that they're similar to networks outside the exchange.

The health exchange is working under a time crunch. Deadline for certification is Aug. 31, and there's a lot to do before then.

"One of the main things we need to do is we have to get system up and running with a lot of products on the shelf so we can get the process going," Van Loon said.

The committee agreed to certify the carriers with the notice that all networks will be reviewed and the results of the review will be published on the health exchange's website before Dec. 31 to allow consumers to compare.

Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in 2010 as a way to decrease the number of uninsured people. There are roughly 344,000 uninsured people in the state.

With the Affordable Care Act, families that earn less than 400 percent of the poverty level will be eligible for federal subsidies that will reduce the costs of insurance premiums -- how much depends on their income.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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