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Residents in need of health insurance urged to sign up with Access Health CT

Norwich — Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, state Sen. Cathy Osten’s southeastern Connecticut district has endured some of the heaviest job losses in the state.

And losing one’s job often means losing one’s health insurance.

Osten, the Sprague Democrat, highlighted the problem Tuesday, summoning state and local officials to a physically distanced news conference in the parking lot of St. Vincent de Paul Place, where they urged the uninsured to sign up for a health plan through Access Health CT, the agency charged with carrying out the Affordable Care Act in the state.

Open enrollment for 2021 coverage began Nov. 1 and is set to end Dec. 15, though it’s been extended in recent years.

“If we’ve learned anything at all in the pandemic, it’s how critical health care is,” said James Michel, chief executive officer of Access Health CT. “If you’ve lost your job, you probably lost your health insurance, too. ... We’re completely focused on seeing that you get coverage.”

Access Health CT can provide financial assistance based on income and household size. Michel said the agency can quickly act on an application, granting approval even before all the necessary paperwork has been completed.

So far, more than 100,000 Connecticut residents have signed up for a plan through Access Health CT, suggesting enrollment will exceed last year’s, which was just shy of 108,000. Given the high number of uninsured people and the pandemic's tenacity, the need to beat the drum is critical, the officials said.

“2019 Census figures tell us there's about 5,000 people in the 19th state Senate District without health insurance, and those numbers have only climbed since the pandemic struck and closed businesses and killed livelihoods," Osten said, referring to the district she represents. "But there's an answer. It's called Access Health CT, and I urge everyone to make the call or go on their website to check out their health insurance options, whether it be through a private insurer or the HUSKY or Medicaid programs."

Residents can call 1 (855) 805-4325 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, or they can visit www.accesshealthct.com. Access Health CT operates in-person locations around the state, including a southeastern Connecticut location at 541 Eastern Point Road, Groton. Appointments are necessary.

About 10.5% of Connecticut residents between the ages of 25 and 45 are uninsured, the highest rate of any age group. About 4.5% of those between 55 and 65 are uninsured. Only 0.5% of Connecticut residents over 65 are uninsured, a reflection of their eligibility for Medicare and Medicaid, the federal government’s health insurance programs.

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom, Social Services Director LeeAnn Gomes and Jill Corbin, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul Place, all attested to the need for affordable health care coverage obtainable through Access Health CT.

“This is vitally important in this region,” Nystrom said.

Osten said some 12,000 people have lost jobs amid the pandemic in the Norwich-New London area, and many over the age of 65 are without health insurance. Most of the job losses, she said, are attributable to layoffs at Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun and the vendors that supply them.

She provided data showing nearly 2,000 residents in her district’s towns — Columbia, Franklin, Hebron, Lebanon, Ledyard, Lisbon, Marlborough, Montville, Norwich and Sprague — are enrolled in Access Health CT health plans offered via Anthem and ConnectiCare. Others have turned to the agency to enroll in the state's HUSKY program, Medicaid or the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program.

In Osten’s district, the percentage of uninsured residents ranges as high as about 6% in Montville and Norwich and 4% in Ledyard — three large towns with a combined population of nearly 72,000 people. In the region, about 10% of New London's 27,000 residents were without health insurance last year, and 6.5% of Groton's 9,000 residents were uninsured.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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