Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Access Health CT CEO James Wadleigh (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — It’s the fifth and perhaps the most challenging year for open enrollment on Connecticut’s insurance exchange—Access Health CT.

President Donald Trump’s administration announced in September that it was cutting its advertising budget by 90 percent and then in October the president canceled a crucial subsidy that helped insurance carriers recover some of their costs for helping low-income individuals and families better afford coverage.

The hurdles leading up to the 2018 enrollment period which starts today seemed to be numerous.

For the past six months it seemed like every day there was something new we had to contend with, Access Health CT CEO James Wadleigh said.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who chairs the board of Access Health CT, said getting the word out is the most important thing they can do to help people get covered before Dec. 22.

“This is vital information that impacts our residents,” Wyman said. “This year is different because we don’t have the support of the federal government.”

She told the staff at Access Health CT that it will make their job harder and more important.

While Connecticut, which has its own exchange, didn’t directly benefit from federal advertising dollars, it didn’t hurt in previous years that the federal government was promoting enrollment nationally. Access Health CT will be trying to compensate for the loss of what was essentially free marketing help by better targeting its audience through social media and a stepped up marketing campaign.

As far as the subsidies are concerned, those who will be most directly impacted will be customers with silver plans who were not receiving any federal tax credits.

Those customers, there are about 7,000 enrolled with Access Health CT for 2017, will see double-digit rate hikes in their plans for 2018 as a result of the elimination of the cost-sharing reductions.

Wadleigh said those customers will be receiving notices in the mail at least twice if they don’t enroll within the next few weeks. They will also receive phone calls as well as the end of open enrollment nears.

He said he wants to make sure everyone knows that in order to receive the Advanced Premium Tax Credits, which help offset the monthly premiums for individuals and families earning below 400 percent of the federal poverty level, they have to purchase a plan through Access Health CT.

If you are a family of four earning less than $98,400 per year they may qualify for a tax credit.

“Financial help is only available through Access Health,” Wadleigh said.

Anthem Health and ConnectiCare Benefits are the two insurance carriers offering plans on the exchange. There are a total of 38 separate plans being offered in three different metal tiers.

Unlike last year, there are more than 200 insurance brokers who will be able to help consumers choose the right plan.

For those who don’t want the help of a broker, there’s also a new consumer decision tool offered online by Access Health CT.

A customer can enter their information about what prescription drugs they take and what doctors they see or what screenings they may need and the application is supposed to help them choose a plan that’s right for them.

Starting today, customers can enroll online, by telephone, or by visiting one of 10 enrollment centers around the state.

In past years, Connecticut has been able to enroll about 100,000 individuals in plans in the individual marketplace, but Wadleigh was hesitant to make any predictions this year.

“This year as we enter year five things are a little different,” Wadleigh said. “We’ve seen a lot of the uncertainty that’s coming out of Washington D.C. I think that will potentially play its hand in our enrollment.”

Wyman said she’s not nervous that these changes will cause Connecticut’s uninsured rate to go up, “I’m more nervous people will be uninsured.”

Over the past five years, Connecticut has been able to reduce its uninsured population to 4.9 percent. It was 9.4 percent in 2013, which was the last year before the Affordable Care Act.