A brand new online marketplace for health insurance in Connecticut is operational and will be ready to start serving customers when open enrollment begins Oct. 1, a spokesman said Thursday.
The Affordable Care Act, sometimes called Obamacare, requires each state to have an online marketplace where people can buy individual health insurance plans. Some states, like Connecticut, built their own marketplace. Others are deferring to the federal government to run and manage the online system.
All the marketplaces will link to a federal data hub, which connects people who sign up for coverage to several agencies: the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
They are involved for various reasons: people may qualify for subsidies to offset the price of coverage; there are tax implications; and officials must determine if a person is a citizen, and if that person qualifies for government health care, such as Medicaid.
Each state-created system has to be vetted by federal officials before it’s given authority to connect to the federal hub, James Wadleigh, chief information officer at Access Health CT.
“In order for Access Health CT to go online Oct. 1, we need authority to connect,” he said at a regular meeting of the Access Health CT board Thursday in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
For two days in late August, federal officials were in Connecticut to test the online marketplace to see if it is operational. Federal officials also tested Access Health CT’s call center, which has 40 people answering phones in Hartford and an additional 32 in New York City.
“That was completed successfully,” Wadleigh said. “It was two days where we showed the federal team everything that our system can do.”
The marketplace — also called an exchange — is still waiting for information from health insurers, including the network of clinicians that each will offer to customers.
“While we are a little behind, I’m not worried that we won’t be ready for Oct. 1,” Wadleigh said.
Starting Oct. 1, individuals and small businesses will be able to buy coverage for next year through Access Health CT. Individual plans are offered by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Connecticut, ConnectiCare and Healthy CT. Small-group plans are offered by Anthem, Healthy CT and UnitedHealthcare.
In recent months, Access Health CT has been optimistic, but not without caution. On WednesdayÖ, the organization’s CEO, Kevin Counihan, said in a prepared statement, “We’ve said consistently that there will be bumps in the road, but we believe we are as well positioned as any state to help consumers find quality, affordable health plan coverage.”
The IRS on Wednesday gave Access Health CT approval to accept federal tax information, a major milestone, he said.
“That’s the first domino. That’s the big domino … the only thing left is that one document that says we have authority to connect and we’re ready to go live,” Wadleigh said.
Access Health CT has 42 people on staff and many others under contract. In addition to the call centers, Access Health CT pays to operate retail storefronts where people can walk in and get information about the exchange. It also has hired people to market the new system at events and concerts. The exchange also has spent money on radio, television, newspaper and other media advertising.
The exchange is funded entirely through federal grants, according to Access Health CT. In a financial report, the exchange showed it has received $158 million to maintain its operations since the start in June 2011, and those funds will last through the end of next year.
The call centers at Access Health CT have received an average 66 calls per day, each averaging 8.2 minutes, with questions such as, “How much will health insurance cost for a family of four?” and “how will the fines for not having insurance be levied, will they be prorated?”
Through various marketing efforts, such as retail storefronts in New Britain and New Haven, Access Health CT has more than 6,600 leads of people who have expressed interest in buying insurance on the exchange, said Jason Madras, Access Health CT’s chief marketing officer.