Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Access Health CT CEO James Michel (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

EAST HARTFORD, CT — Enrollment in Connecticut’s health exchange dropped this year to 111,066 enrollees, which is 3,068 fewer enrollees than last year.

Access Health CT CEO James Michel said there were challenges this year to the program. He cited the elimination of the penalty that people were required to pay for not having insurance in the first five years of the program, plan design changes, and the last-minute decision by a Texas court that stuck down the Affordable Care Act. That decision is being appealed and in the interim the ACA remains in place.

Michel said that even though enrollment is down they are pleased with the enrollment figures, which include 30,254 new enrollees, and 80,812 returning customers.

“The fact that we had so many changes in our health plans that contributed to increases in premium because you reduce the advanced premium tax credit, we thought that would have impacted people buying insurance from us as well, so we anticipated the impact would have been much more dramatic than 3,000,” Michel said.

But there could have been other reasons enrollment dropped.

“Having a very strong economy and low unemployment” also contributed to the decrease in enrollment, Michel said. “If people have jobs, they’re probably getting insurance through their employer.”

He said they are still analyzing the data, but they presented the board of directors some information Thursday.

According to the presentation to the board, there were 14,981 customers who didn’t renew their coverage this year. Of those, 31 percent transitioned to HUSKY, 9 percent aged out due ad qualified for Medicare, 14 percent did not actively renew, and 46 percent canceled their plans.

Five out of 10 customers who didn’t receive a subsidy and left the exchange indicated they received coverage through another source and three in 10 subsidized leavers indicated they have insurance through another source. It’s likely the latter moved to Medicaid.

Meanwhile, an estimated 71 percent of the 111,066 enrollees on the exchange qualified for subsidies, which reduce their monthly premiums.

Enrollment this year was extended by 30 days to January 15. During that period, 4,081 customers changed their plans and 10,059 customers enrolled in coverage that starts in February.

This year Access Health CT predicted that because of changes to plan designs, about 52 percent of renewing households would see a premium increase of an average of $100 extra per month, Robert Blundo, director of technical operations for Access Health CT, said. What ended up happening was that 28 percent of renewals ended up paying a net premium increase of $100 or more.

An estimated 36 percent of renewing households will pay a premium that’s less than the one they paid in 2018.

He said that’s why they focused the marketing campaign on the need to shop. An estimated 44 percent of renewing customers did switch plans this year as a result. In 2018, only 18 percent changed plans.

Between the two insurance companies offering plans on the exchange they offered 17 plans down from 20 in 2018. The designs of some of those plans changed significantly, which gave some customers sticker shock.

Those who were receiving financial assistance were 51 percent more likely to switch plans.

“We wanted to over-communicate so that message wouldn’t be lost,” Blundo said.

He said they increased customer outreach in anticipation of these changes.

“We really ramped up our call center brokers,” Blundo said.

He said those who shopped for plans experienced lower premium increases compared to non-shoppers.

It’s also likely that enrollment will dip over the next few months because people still need to pay their monthly premiums and at least 18,928 still have not submitted the necessary documentation to verify their income to receive a subsidy.