James Michel, CEO of Access Health, at a press conference on Dec. 13, 2021
James Michel, CEO of Access Health, at a press conference on Dec. 13, 2021 Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

The clock is ticking on expanded health insurance subsidies available through Connecticut’s health insurance marketplace. While open enrollment continues until Jan. 15, Connecticut residents have until Wednesday, Dec. 15 to enroll in a plan to be covered on the first of the year. 

Access Health CT, the insurance exchange created by the Affordable Care Act, is in the midst of its open enrollment period for 2022 health insurance coverage. Although reduced-cost plans are generally available for residents below certain income thresholds, more people currently qualify for assistance as a result of the American Rescue Plan Act, which buffed the subsidies and extended them to families earning more income than prior years. 

During a Monday press conference at an in-person enrollment center based in the Raymond branch of the East Hartford Public Library, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said many people who did not or barely qualified for assistance in the past would do well to take another look at the subsidized plans. 

“If you have shopped in the exchange before, if you’ve looked for ACA plans in years past and they were too expensive, come back. You are likely going to find that options are much cheaper this year,” Murphy said. 

Wednesday’s enrollment deadline will impact a month of coverage next year. Anyone who enrolls before the deadline will be covered beginning on Jan.1. Anyone who signs up between Dec. 16 and Jan. 15 will have coverage that begins on Feb. 1. 

However, during Monday’s press conference, James Michel, CEO of Access Health, said the exchange board will be flexible with anyone who tries to enroll by Wednesday but gets bogged down in a last-minute rush. 

“Our call centers will be open until midnight that day. If you call our call center and you can’t get through because it is so busy, we will entertain over the next two weeks anyone who called, couldn’t get through, we will enroll them, we’ll give them an option of Jan.1 or Feb. 1,” Michel said. 

Insurance shoppers can use the exchange’s website, www.accesshealthct.com, call center at 1-855-805-4325, or visit one of several in-person enrollment centers. 

Michel said sign-ups during this year’s open enrollment period were tracking between 5% and 10% higher than prior years. So far, roughly 100,000 residents had signed up for health insurance plans, he said. 

But while residents may be taking advantage of the federal subsidies, participation continues to lag in an additional state program called Covered Connecticut, which, for a segment of the population, completely covers premiums, copays and deductibles. 

Michel said between 750 and 800 people had enrolled in the program. Although as many as 40,000 residents are believed to be eligible for the essentially free insurance — generally households would need to fall between 160% and 175% of the federal poverty level — Michel described eligibility Monday as a “moving target.” 

“To qualify for the Covered Connecticut plan you have to have enrolled in one of the plans that qualifies for the American Rescue Plan subsidy and you have to take full advantage of all the subsidies available. That was not a big population,” Michel said. 

The population eligible for the extra assistance will “open up dramatically” next July when a current requirement that applicants have a child in order to qualify expires, Michel said. 

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy at a press conference on Dec. 13, 2021
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy at a press conference on Dec. 13, 2021 Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

At the moment, the increased subsidies will also expire if not extended by Congress. Murphy said expects an extension will be included in President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” legislation, which continues to be the subject of negotiation in Congress. 

“My expectation is we will pass Build Back Better by the end of the year and it will include an extension of these additional subsidies,” Murphy said, adding that he was not sure how long the extension would be. “I think what we have seen these last few years is it’s not really popular to take peoples’ health insurance away. It’s a lesson that politicians shouldn’t have to learn but they sometimes have to relearn it.”