Local center manned to help with Access Health CT enrollment

A Milford resident, who didn’t want to be named in this article, walked into the Access Health CT help center at the Margaret Egan Center with a couple of questions about enrolling for insurance. He’d registered online, and switched carriers from the current year, but hadn’t heard back yet from the new company. He wanted to make sure he’d completed the process correctly.

Karen Perez, a manager at Access Health CT, assured him that he had done the process correctly and that he should get confirmation two weeks before the new insurance takes effect Jan. 1.

Perez said the Community Enrollment Partner center in Milford, and nine others around the state, have been getting similar questions to that posed by the Milford resident as the enrollment deadline looms. Open enrollment runs through Dec. 22 for coverage that begins on Jan. 1.

Access Health CT has partnered with organizations around the state to offer enrollment locations with certified enrollment specialists, including the one at the Margaret Egan Center, 35 Matthew Street in Room 149. The hours are Monday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

State Rep. Kim Rose worked to have one of the centers located in Milford this year. Last year there were two centralized help centers, which were closed this year to spread the centers throughout the state.

There are usually two enrollment specialists in the small room at the Margaret Egan Center, ready with computers, and even some candy to help people feel comfortable. Matt Clift and Barbara Grant were offering help last week — Grant also speaks Spanish — and by 3 p.m. they had already worked with about 13 people who came from Milford and surrounding towns.

People looking to sign up for insurance need to come with their Social Security number, tax returns, most recent pay stub, and if they are immigrants, a green card, naturalization papers or passport. If they already have coverage through an employer, they may bring that information, too.

The Milford resident said it’s nice having this in-person option. The first year of the program, when he first signed up for insurance through the state, he called and felt as if he was on hold forever. The third year the process got much easier, he said, explaining that he has a job that does not offer him insurance, and therefore he buys his coverage through Access Health CT.

Access Health CT is Connecticut’s official health insurance marketplace. It was established to meet the requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act. A 14-member board of directors, chaired by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, oversees Access Health CT.

According to an October Hartford Courant article, uncertainty in Washington about the Affordable Care Act has played a role in driving up rates on Access Health CT this year.

“While neither carrier that sold plans last year decided to leave the exchange for 2018, they were both approved for double-digit rate increases,” according to the Courant. The article noted that those who receive subsidies “will see those subsidies increase as rates rise, but those who don’t qualify for financial assistance will pay the full rate hikes.”

Last year 110,000 people signed up through Access Health CT.

Kathleen M. Tallarita, manager of government affairs and communications for Access Health CT, said people from all walks of life purchase through AHCT, including people who are unemployed, are uninsured through employers, or are self-employed, and those looking for an alternative to expensive COBRA plans.

“Remember, AHCT is the only place where consumers can receive any financial help in the form of an advanced premium tax credit from the federal government,” Tallarita said. “With that said, over 75% of our enrollees in the past have received that financial help; 25% enrolled through AHCT with no financial help at all.”

Access Health CT also partners with the Connecticut Department of Social Services in HUSKY Health eligibility and enrollment.

Clift said the amount of time it takes to help people who stop in for insurance guidance varies. Some take five or 10 minutes. If they are just starting the application, it might take 45 minutes from start to finish.

The people here answer questions, check to make sure people have done the application correctly if they already did it, and help them navigate the website if they haven’t started yet. They can also unlock accounts if people forgot their passwords.

A broker is available several days at the center to help people with insurance advice. The Milford resident who stopped in said he may take advantage of a broker’s advice next year in helping him select the best coverage plan.

“The first year I signed up for the Bronze Plan, and I should really have gotten the Silver,” he said.

Residents may go to the webiste — Accesshealthct.com — and click on learn more, get help, to locate a certified broker.

Tallarita suggested anyone looking to buy insurance through the exchange stop in, even if they are automatically enrolled from the current year.

“Some folks will be auto-enrolled into a similar plan, if they chose to do so on their application last year,” she said. “If someone did not choose to be auto-enrolled or some special circumstance changed that auto-enrollment status, they will have to come in and re-enroll for a 2018 plan. Everyone has been and will continue to be contacted through many channels, emails, postcards, phone calls, etc., to remind them to come in and shop for a 2018 plan.”

She said plans have changed, and stopping in to one of the help centers helps to make sure the plan they are enrolled in meets their health needs, including making sure their doctor is in the plan and any prescriptions they may take are covered.

“AHCT encourages everyone enrolled to also come in and update their application information, address or household income changes,” Tallarita said. “When doing that they should take a look at what is available to them this year for a health insurance plan.”

Enrollment centers are also located in Bridgeport, Danbury, East Hartford, Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, Norwich, Stamford, and Waterbury.