Christine Stuart file photo
Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan (Christine Stuart file photo)

The head of Connecticut’s health insurance exchange said Friday that his organization suggested giving people with canceled plans the option to purchase a bare-bones catastrophic plan about a month ago.

“Ironically, this was our idea over a month ago when the issue of the canceled policies came up,” Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan said Friday during a conference call with reporters.

Counihan said he had no idea that it would become federal policy even though he ran it past the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

But exactly how the state would be able to implement this for the 38,561 canceled policies is still a mystery.

The Access Health CT website is set up to recognize that if a person isn’t under the age of 30 they will not be able to get a catastrophic plan.

Catastrophic insurance plans have high deductibles and lower monthly premiums. There are three catastrophic plans offered on Connecticut’s exchange and each has a $6,350 deductible for individuals and $12,700 for families.

There are fewer than four days left for these people with canceled policies to purchase a plan if they want coverage on Jan. 1. Counihan said his team is scrambling to be able to make it possible.

There’s also a question about what it would do to the rate structure and the demographic information assumed in creating those rates.

“We got as many questions as you do about what it really means,” Counihan said.

America’s Health Insurance Plans President and CEO Karen Ignagni said Thursday that “this latest rule change could cause significant instability in the marketplace and lead to further confusion and disruption for consumers.”

Counihan said that’s a huge policy issue because these health insurance plans submitted their rates believing the oldest person to enroll in a catastrophic plan would be 30 years old.

“What are the implications to the rest of the risk pool?” Counihan said.

The decision will have a trickle down effect on the actuarial values of the other risk pools. If people from those pools are migrating to the catastrophic plans then what does this mean for the plans? Counihan said that’s a question he can’t answer at the moment.

Counihan said he’s spoken to members of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation and the Insurance Department about what this means.

“Does it supersede state policy?” Counihan said. “We just don’t know.”

He said it’s a complication that he could have done without as the Dec. 23 deadline for open enrollment ends. In order to be covered on Jan. 1, the enrollment process will need to be completed by midnight on Dec. 23.

“To be frank with you the mind reels just a little bit that this could be introduced four days before the end of open enrollment,” Counihan said. “We know that everybody’s heart is in the right place, but with respect to consistency of messaging and helping not to confuse the public, this obviously represents a little bit of a challenge for all the states.”

But Counihan said they’re up for the challenge. He described the rollout of the exchange as a game of “three-dimensional speed chess.”

For example, there are about 25,933 people who began the enrollment process and have not completed the application. Counihan worries those people may believe they will have coverage on Jan. 1.

In an effort to head off any confusion, Counihan said they are calling each of those people in addition to sending them a letter to remind them they won’t have coverage on Jan. 1 if they don’t complete the process by Dec. 23.

“We want to anticipate that. We want to get ahead of it,” Counihan said.

He said he doesn’t want someone to show up in the emergency room on Jan. 1 and think they have coverage because they began the enrollment process.

There are about 47,000 Connecticut residents who have enrolled in the exchange to date and about 50 percent are enrolled in one of the three private health insurance plans, while the other 50 percent are enrolled in Medicaid.