Access Health CT website

Connecticut’s health insurance exchange received high grades from an independent firm for its quick health plan comparisons.

HealthPocket, an independent firm that analyzes and compares health insurance plans across the country, found that Connecticut’s exchange, called Access Health CT, was able to produce a plan comparison on its website within four steps — the fewest among states with their own exchange. The state with the most steps required to compare plans was Minnesota, which requires 18 steps.

Rhode Island’s did well too. It was able to produce plan comparisons within six steps.

The 36 states using the federal exchange at require “nearly four times as many steps to produce a health plan comparison page,” according to the report released Friday.

Connecticut seems to be ahead of its counterparts in other states. Maryland, Nevada, New York, Washington D.C., and Vermont did not allow consumers to anonymously compare plans, while Hawaii doesn’t even have plan comparison capabilities yet.

“Like all states, Connecticut is focused on making the shopping and enrollment process as simple and transparent as possible,” Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan said in a statement. “We have more to do, but we are off to a good start.”

There are an estimated 344,000 uninsured in Connecticut — representing about 9 percent of the state’s overall population. In the first two weeks, more than 143,000 individuals visited the website and more than 12,900 called the hotline where the average call last for about 10 minutes.

“One of the challenges with online shopping is that more steps increase the risk of website visitors abandoning the shopping process,” an analyst from HealthPocket wrote in the report. “The most successful ecommerce web sites such as minimize the number of steps from the home page to product comparisons. On Amazon’s website, a consumer can shop for products in as little as two steps. However, it should be noted that the exchanges have a consumer incentive that Amazon does not: Failure to enroll in health insurance can result in a tax penalty.”

Counihan, who worked for the Connector in Massachusetts, has said it’s been his experience that an individual will contact the exchange or visit the website 18 times before they actually sign up.

Aside from some first day website hiccups, Connecticut’’s exchange has exceeded early expectations even though the number of completed applications was under 4,000 as of Oct. 15.

Of the 3,847 individuals who signed up for coverage, 1,857 qualified for Medicaid, 1,897 signed up for plans with one of the three private insurance carriers, and 93 qualified for the Children’s Health Insurance Plan. Of the individuals who signed up with private carriers, 772 won’t receive a subsidy and 1,125 will receive a federal subsidy to lower their monthly premium.

In the small business marketplace there were 11 applications representing 47 individuals who finished the application process.

But not all the information has been handed over to the carriers yet, so these individuals who completed the application aren’t technically enrolled in their plan.

Of those who have enrolled in Connecticut’s exchange, about 51 percent have chosen a silver plan, 20 percent have selected a bronze plan, and 26 percent have selected a gold plan. About 3 percent have selected catastrophic plans, which are offered to individuals under the age of 30 who might not want to pay a high monthly premium because it’s unlikely they will need much medical care.

Those enrolling in Connecticut’s exchange also have tended to be older thus far. Nearly 400 individuals ages 55-64 who enrolled in the exchange between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15 qualified for Medicaid because their income was at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, and nearly 600 in that same age group have signed up for plans with one of the three private insurance carriers.

There is no information yet about enrollment statistics for the 36 states participating in the federal exchange.

According to the Seattle Times, the health exchange in Washington has enrolled about 25,000 residents while an additional 37,000 people have completed the application process to enroll but have not submitted their first payment.

Washington has a population of 6.8 million residents, which is about twice the population of the state of Connecticut.

In Kentucky, which has a population of about 4.38 million residents, 15,480 individuals have enrolled through the exchange, according to their exchange’s website.

Kentucky has more than 640,000 uninsured citizens, which is about 15 percent of the state’s population. About half will qualify for Medicaid and half will be able to purchase private plans on the exchange.