Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT, announced plans Wednesday to launch a free insurance broker training program to boost health care enrollment in underserved communities.

During an afternoon press conference, James Michel, the exchange’s CEO, said research had found sharp disparities in health and medical care given in communities of color despite Connecticut’s overall status as a wealthy state. 

“By activating members of these communities to become brokers, Access Health CT can build trust by meeting members of the community where they are and at the same time create economic benefit for those areas,” Michel said. 

The program, called the Broker Academy, will be free and initially include 100 candidates  from the areas around Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven. Students will be provided with a laptop computer, which they will be able to keep after completing the training and being licensed as brokers in Connecticut. Once students have become licensed, Michel said Access Health would certify them as agents capable of selling health insurance policies on the state exchange.

Interested candidates can begin applying on Friday at To qualify, a resident must be from the areas around Bridgeport, Hartford or New Haven, be at least 18 years old, and have a high school diploma or GED. 

Access Health will pay for the program, which Michel said will cost the board around $230,000. 

The program will also pair candidates with experienced mentors. During the press conference, Cesar Cortes, a broker who will serve as a mentor, said recruiting new brokers from underserved communities will enable people there to access reliable information from a trusted source instead of relying on hearsay. 

“They can go back to the community and provide that proper information, that real good information, not be misinformed about what they heard from cousins’ and friends’ experiences,” Cortes said. “It’s important to train people from within their own community so that they build a trust, a relationship.”

Gov. Ned Lamont said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of access to health care. 

“I gotta tell you that we’ve learned the hard way these last couple years what disparities mean and what it means when you don’t have health insurance, what it means when you don’t get access to a test or a vaccine in this period of COVID,” Lamont said. “That’s not just [putting] you at risk, it puts your community at risk.” 

Access Health CT completed its extended open enrollment period last week. Michel said the board enrolled a total of more than 112,000 Connecticut residents, representing an increase of 7.2% over last year’s enrollment.