CTNJ file photo
Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan in the center (CTNJ file photo)

Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan joined other state health exchange directors last week in a video conference with President Barack Obama. He spoke about his organization’s effort to get the word out about the exchange to young people.

Part of that effort included setting up a tent at the Comcast Music Theater in Hartford and getting information to younger demographic who attended the Lil Wayne concert at the end of July. Counihan joked that’s he’s not in the target demographic for Lil Wayne, but he got names of 500 young people interested in learning more about the new insurance marketplace.

According to Counihan, the director from the state after him told the president that they’re reaching out to young people through bars. That director made a comment about being too old to go to bars.

“So the president says, ‘If Kevin can go to a Lil’ Wayne concert, you ought to be able to go to a bar,’” Counihan recalled Wednesday in a conference call with local media. “Then the president says, ‘Hey, Kevin do you have a pictures of you at that Lil Wayne concert?’ I said yes Mr. President I do, but our daughter has insisted they don’t see the light of day.”

He said that was his first experience with the president and probably the last.

Counihan made his remarks during the first of several monthly conference calls with reporters to let them know about the state’s progress in getting its virtual health insurance marketplace up and running Oct. 1.

During the call, Counihan noted the importance of reaching the younger demographic, who are healthier and often referred to as “invincible” by insurance industry workers.

For those under the age of 30 there will be catastrophic care plans offered on the exchange. These are are high-deductible plans with low monthly premiums. Under the Affordable Care Act, children are able to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26.

Counihan and his crew are getting ready for Oct. 1, which is the first day residents will be able to enroll to get benefits starting January 2014. In the meantime, an army of Obamacare “assisters” will be out in the community raising awareness of the exchange and, when it comes time, enrolling people in it.

After Oct. 1, the “assisters” will be given laptops that don’t have hard drives and only connect to the exchange website.

Earlier this month, the four insurance carriers offering their plans on Connecticut’s exchange released their monthly premium rates for both the individual and small group market. To figure out where you fall inside the exchange’s pricing structure, you will need to pick a medal tier and carrier, and then use your age and county. Then you will need to apply the federal subsidy based on income. Families making up to $94,200 — or 400 percent of the federal poverty level — will qualify for a subsidy.

Seventy two percent of Connecticut residents will be eligible for these subsides.

The average premium for a 40-year-old non-smoker buying a bronze level plan in Connecticut is about $240 a month, according to Counihan. In Olympia, Washington the average was $223. In Richmond, Virginia it was $193. He said both of those cities have significantly lower healthcare costs than Connecticut.

“We have the fourth highest medical costs in the country,” Counihan said.

So what is the exchange doing about keeping the costs down?

Earlier this year the Senate passed a bill that would have required the Access Health CT Board of Directors to negotiate with the insurance carriers, but the bill wasn’t called for a vote in the House.

Last year, the Access Health CT Board of Directors voted against the idea.

Counihan said the standard plan design, which is offered by every plan on the exchange, makes it easier for consumers to shop and compare. It makes it more transparent and “puts pressure on the delivery system to be more efficient,” he said.

Advocates argued that it’s important to make sure the plans are affordable and the board should have negotiated with the carriers even after the Insurance Department reviewed the plans and in most cases lowered the costs to consumers.