It's been two weeks since Lisa Scronce got her Access Health CT laptop, and customers are starting to trickle in for help signing up through the state's new online health insurance marketplace.
"I've spoken to three or four people about it," and have other appointments, Scronce said Monday. She is manager at the Greenville Drug Store in Norwich and one of about two dozen people from social service and health care agencies and pharmacies in southeastern Connecticut who completed training to become an Access Health CT assister.
Recent publicity about problems with the federally run insurance marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act has created some confusion about state-run sites such as Connecticut's, Scronce said, and left some people reluctant to check out the state's site, which is run separately - and far more successfully - than the federal site. Scronce said she's been trying to educate customers about the difference between the federal and state websites.
"They have no concept that it's separate from the federal hub," Scronce said, logging on to her dedicated Access Health CT laptop, set up in a small room newly created at the pharmacy so she can meet with customers privately.
Mostly separate, that is. Twice this week, features on the Access Health CT site that connect with the federal hub were inoperable because of an outage. The features verify an applicant's identity and calculate the amount of subsidy a person would receive. People could still go on the site and shop the various options available to them, but they could not submit an application during the outage.
Despite that, Scronce said that overall, the system is easy to use and she's looking forward to working with more customers to get them signed up for insurance. "Connecticut has been in the forefront of getting this ready," she said. "All the tweaking's been done."
In Connecticut, more than 4,570 residents have been enrolled in insurance plans for themselves and their families through the site since it went live Oct. 1, covering a total of 7,650 individuals. Another 55 small business have applied through Access Health CT for insurance to cover 306 employees.
Kathleen Tallarita, spokeswoman for Access Health CT, said the agency is pleased thus far with the enrollment numbers, although the interruptions due to the federal hub did slow activity.
Another assister, Sarah Derosa, said she's helped three people sign up for insurance through the site since she got her laptop 2½ weeks ago. All three had been uninsured. Another dozen or so have come in to talk to her about it.
"A lot of people are just shopping around now," said Derosa, who is a pharmacy assistant at the Medicine Shoppe in New London.
Access Health CT officials have said they expect most new enrollments will take place during November and December. Coverage would start Jan. 1. Thus far, the majority of those with new coverage through the site have signed up with private plans, although new Medicaid enrollees aren't far behind. Tallarita said most of the new enrollees have signed up through the agency's call center or on their own through the website, but the numbers signing up through the assisters are expected to pick up in the coming weeks.
One of the southeastern Connecticut assisters, Constance Capacchione, public health program coordinator at the Uncas Health District in Norwich, said she's set up several appointments for next week. "I've been on it with a few clients, but no one's signed up yet," she said. "They're just poking around at this point."
Over the next several weeks, Capacchione and other assisters are planning outreach efforts and events in the community. Scronce said she's planning to visit all the churches in the Greeneville neighborhood to get the word out about Access Health CT. "I want to meet with all the ministers, go to the potluck suppers," she said. "About 4,600 people in Norwich alone are uninsured."
In a demonstration of the site, she showed an example of what the site would offer for a hypothetical family of four with an annual income of $48,000. After plugging in information on the ages of the adults - 50 and 52 - and the children - 10 and 15 - the system showed the children would be eligible for the state's Husky B coverage. The parents were offered the Blue Cross-Blue Shield Silver plan at $253.22 per month; the Anthem Silver plan at $257 per month; or the Healthy CT plan at $327 per month, with rates all reflecting the subsidies the couple would receive. Information on co-pays, preventive services included and other features was shown.
Getting more people insured, she believes, will improve the health of the community overall.
"Instead of being reactive, we can be proactive about our health," she said.