Connecticut's Insurance exchange preparations praised in federal 'readiness review'

The state's new online marketplace being set up for health insurance has made significant progress toward becoming operational on or soon after the Oct. 1 target date, Kevin Counihan, chief executive officer of the quasi-public agency setting up the new insurance exchanges, said Wednesday.

Counihan, in a phone conference with journalists, said he and other staff at Access Health CT met last week with federal officials overseeing implementation of the Affordable Care Act for a "readiness review."

"We did well and received high praise," he said.

Richard Olague, spokesman for Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the agency is continuing to test systems with states and has been pleased by the progress thus far.

Before the new system - which would allow insurance shoppers to compare and enroll in one of 31 plans that will be offered - can start operating, federal officials have to give conditional approval.

Full approval would come a few months later, Counihan said.

The online system being developed will be ready for performance testing by mid-September, he said. Those who sign up between October and December would be covered starting Jan. 1.

In preparation for the new system, Access Health CT has begun training 300 "assisters" who would use laptop computers to enroll people one-on-one in their communities. Many of those being trained are from nonprofit social service and health agencies. Counihan said Access Health CT also has a marketing campaign to get the word out about the exchanges, using concert sponsorship, billboards and social media as well as traditional media.

In addition to signing up through the assisters, people will also be able to sign up on their own through the Access Health CT website, www.accesshealthct.com. The agency is also planning to open offices in New Britain and New Haven where people can meet with staff who would help them enroll. The New Britain office is scheduled for an October opening, while the New Haven office would open several weeks later. Additional offices may be added in the future, said Kathleen Tallarita, government and public affairs outreach manager for the agency.

Access Health CT is hoping to enroll at least 100,000 uninsured Connecticut residents through the exchanges in the first year, Tallarita said. There are about 344,000 uninsured Connecticut residents.

Plans will be available through the exchange in three tiers, ranked gold, silver and bronze. In addition, the exchange will offer high-deductible catastrophic coverage for 18- to 30-year-olds that would cover emergency hospital care, some wellness visits and three primary care or mental health visits annually, Tallarita said.

Counihan said about 72 percent of state residents who sign up through the exchanges will be eligible for federal subsidies toward the cost of insurance.

A calculator on the Access Health CT website provides estimates of how much residents can expect to pay for insurance plans through the exchanges.

For a family of four with an annual income of $75,000, for example, the monthly premium would be $1,284. But the family would pay only $690 per month, with the remaining $594 covered by a federal tax credit.

In another example, a business with 10 employees, with an annual payroll of $450,000 and health insurance premium costs of $150,000, would receive a $10,500 tax credit in the first year, increasing to $15,000 in 2014, according to the calculator.

j.benson@theday.com

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