Connecticut officials were excited about opening the nation’s first health exchange storefront where customers can sign up for a health plan. But that excitement was somewhat tempered Thursday by fear that the White House would punish state for bragging about its enrollment success.
The federal government’s Healthcare.gov website, which directly services 36 states, has been plagued with problems since it opened on Oct. 1. Contractors hired to create the website have been working to fix the problems, but all the kinks aren’t expected to be worked out until the end of November.
The story in Connecticut, which decided to operate its own exchange, is different. The site hasn’t crashed or slowed for any significant amount of time. And in this state more people are signing up for one of the three private insurance carriers than for government-funded Medicaid.
“We are best in the nation” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday. “Our numbers are just fantastic.”
According to Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who co-chairs the Access Health CT board of directors, nearly 9,500 individuals have enrolled for plans through the exchange.
Officials initially declined to break down the number enrolled in private insurance plans and those in Medicaid because they said they made a deal with the White House only to report enrollment every two weeks.
“We have carefully worked out an arrangement with the White House about reporting,” Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan said. “We just have to make sure we stick with our deal.”
When they relented, the total number of individuals enrolled was 9,498. Of those 5,312 were in private insurance plans and 4,186 were enrolled in Medicaid.
Numbers released last week show that during its first month of enrollment, 7,615 people signed up and of those, 4,065 signed up for plans with one of the three private insurance carriers and 3,550 were enrolled in Medicaid.
That means that about 1,883 people have signed up in the past week.
“It is remarkable what’s being accomplished in Connecticut when you think about all the bad news that’s being told by TV stations and radio stations and newspapers mixing the difference between the state rollout and the federal rollout. This is an amazing success that we’re having here in the state of Connecticut,” Malloy said.
But the problems with the federal Healthcare.gov website, which has generated Congressional hearings and dominated the national news cycle, is causing some confusion among Connecticut consumers who don’t know the difference between the two exchanges.
“People are confused by national TV,” compared to “what’s happening here in the state,” Malloy said.
“As great as our numbers are I think [the national rollout] is hurting our numbers,” he said. “I think there are a whole bunch of people in Connecticut waiting for Dec. 1 . . . There’s no reason to wait.”
Malloy’s remarks come a day after 16 U.S. Democratic Senators met with President Barack Obama and White House officials to express their concern with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“You had a bunch of states play a game of sabotage,” Malloy said. “Every state that opened up its own efforts is way beyond where the federal government is.”
Connecticut is one of 14 states that opened up its own exchange.
Malloy said he follows the discussion on the federal level but he has a smile on his face while he does it “because I know we got it right.”
But Connecticut’s site is still somewhat dependent on the federal data hub to verify the identity and income of those enrolling. That federal hub has been down on and off for more than a week and thus has prevented some customers in Connecticut from finishing the enrollment process.
As a result, officials at Access Health CT have been talking to companies to see if they can weave in a backup identity and income verification system so that it doesn’t have to depend completely on the federal hub for the information.
The new system would not circumvent the hub, but it would create redundancy so that if the federal hub goes down, Connecticut residents would still be able to complete the enrollment process.
“We’re trying to be as self-sufficient as we can,” Counihan said. “It’s not at all a criticism of the hub. It’s more to say the more that we can control within our state, the more nimble we can be.”
James Wadleigh, Access Health CT’s chief information officer, said they are currently going over proposals for the identity proofing process if the federal hub goes down. However, they aren’t going to be doing a formal bid process for the project. Wadleigh said they will be asking a few companies to submit proposals. The process is similar to the one used to contract Global Strategies Group, the public affairs company hired in June for more than $20,000 a month to assist in public relations and crisis communication.
Connecticut’s exchange, Access Health CT, is funded by the federal government to the tune of $118.7 million. It is set up as a quasi-public state agency, which has focused most of its attention on contracting with vendors to create the website, operate a storefront, and enroll customers.