FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – One of the most visible aspects of the national health-care reform laws begins in Connecticut soon. The state’s “health-care exchange,” a product of the federal 2010 Affordable Care Act, launches on Oct. 1.
One of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called “Obamacare,” was that every state was required to set up a health-care exchange by the start of 2014. Connecticut’s version is a quasi-public agency named Access Health CT.
The health-care exchange is an online marketplace, as someone would use for airline tickets or consumer goods. Individuals and families not covered by an employer-offered plan, or small businesses with less than 50 employees can search the marketplace. There they can directly compare rates and coverage from multiple plans offered by multiple companies.
“Basically, an insurance exchange is an insurance store,” Kevin Counihan, Access Health CT chief executive officer, said earlier this month. “It’s a means for people to go in and shop, to select coverage, and to try and do it in a way that’s more transparent than it’s been in the past.”
Aside from ease of comparison, the exchange also offers direct savings. People under a set income limit pegged to the national poverty rate (about $46,000 for individuals to start) can apply for subsidies to make the plan more affordable.
Counihan estimates that about 72 percent of Connecticut residents would qualify. Small businesses may also apply for tax credits in certain circumstances. These subsidies and credits are only available to people who buy through the exchange.
The system is open to any of the nearly 350,000 Connecticut residents who are still uninsured. Those who do not have health insurance will start facing federally-mandated penalties in 2014.
Residents who already have health insurance through their employers can also use the marketplace if their current premiums cost more than 9.5 percent of their income.
Hartford-based Aetna withdrew from Access Health CT earlier this month, while it was negotiating rates to be included in the exchange. The company said the move was part of “a national review of our Exchange strategy.”
“We have spent considerable time identifying those states in which we can be competitive and add the most value to the market,” Aetna Senior Actuary Bruce Campbell wrote to the state Insurance Department.
Aetna’s departure left the exchange with three companies submitting plans: Anthem, ConnectiCare and Healthy CT. Still, Access Health CT leadership says the exchange will have enough competition to bring down rates.
"People will still be able to choose from a very comprehensive range of quality, aﬀordable coverage options oﬀered through AHCT,” Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who chairs the board of directors, said after Aetna’s withdrawal.
Another issue for Access Health CT is informing the public about the service, and health-care reform in general. A survey of small business owners found that 32 percent did not feel that they knew what the Affordable Care Act means for their business. To inform the public Access Health CT is conducting a marketing campaign.
Access Health CT sends teams to popular events, such as the upcoming Taste of Danbury, to hand out information, and hosts “Healthy Chats” in centralized locations. The next information session in Fairfield County is in Bridgeport on Sept. 4. For a full schedule and more information, visit the Access Health CT website.