James Michel, CEO of Access Health CT Credit: Christine Stuart file photo / CTNewsJunkie

As the state health insurance exchange began its open enrollment period Monday, Access Health CT officials reported that thousands of Connecticut residents were leaving free or greatly reduced insurance plans on the table. 

The exchange, created by the Affordable Care Act, began its enrollment period this week for 2022 health insurance coverage. Generally, residents below certain income thresholds qualify for reduced cost insurance. But, as was the case this year, the subsidies have been boosted by the American Rescue Plan Act, which also broadened the swath of people who qualify for cheaper coverage. 

For a slice of the population who also qualify for a state assistance plan called Covered Connecticut, the combination of benefits pays for the coverage completely, meaning premiums, copays, and deductibles are all free. An estimated 40,000 Connecticut residents qualify for the free coverage. As of Monday, only 703 had enrolled, according to a spokesperson for Access Health CT. 

James Michel, CEO of Access Health, said the exchange expects the number of Covered Connecticut enrollees to jump after the current enrollment period. 

“We anticipate the number will climb dramatically,” Michel said but declined to predict where enrollment figures would land. “We’re still speculating. It’s kinda tough. Only because a lot of folks who qualify, they don’t know they qualify and we don’t know who they are. So part of our job is to do the marketing and outreach that we have been doing, we continue to do to make sure that every Connecticut resident is aware of this.”

In order to qualify for the entirely free program, households would need to fall between 160% and 175% of the federal poverty level. What that means in terms of a dollar amount depends on a few factors including the size of a family and the amount of money they make. For instance, one person making between $20,416 and $22,330 meets the threshold whereas a family of eight people would need to be bringing home between $70,592 and $77,210 in order to qualify. 

Anyone who is not sure whether they qualify can visit www.accesshealthct.com to check. Even those who do not meet the requirements for the Covered Connecticut program may find they qualify for more extensive savings than they would have guessed, Michel said. Many customers who did not meet the threshold for assistance in prior years may now be entitled to subsidies. The American Rescue Plan waived a policy that had capped subsidies at 400% of the federal poverty level. 

“If you’re not sure, apply anyway. Most people are shocked at how affordable their insurance becomes,” Michel said. “People just assume that they’re not going to qualify. I assure you, if you are within certain income levels, put it in. It may cost you 20, 30 minutes of your time but you may qualify for some heavy subsidies.”

Michel said Access Health CT also anticipates an influx of people who have left their jobs in the past year and may have lost their health care coverage in the process. Anyone who finds themselves without income can expect to qualify for heavily subsidized coverage, he said. 

The open enrollment period began Monday and will continue until Jan. 15. Customers wishing to be covered on Jan. 1 must enroll by Dec. 15. Anyone who signs up between Dec. 16 and Jan. 15 will have coverage that begins on Feb. 1. 

“Apply, apply, apply,” Michel said. “Health insurance is more affordable today than it was 10 years ago, five years ago. Please, do not assume it’s too expensive for you because there’s subsidies available for you and your family.”