Access Health gets first Obamacare enrollment amid website woes

Updated 3:08 p.m.

The website has been spotty, but Access Health CT, the state’s new health insurance marketplace created by the federal health reform law, enrolled its first member shortly before 9:30 Tuesday morning and had 44 by early afternoon.

CEO Kevin Counihan was an in-studio guest on WNPR’s "Where We Live" when the Access Health site was slated to launch. After hearing reports that people had been unable to access it, Counihan got a text message and scribbled “We’re live” on a piece of paper.

In addition to the first enrollee, he said shortly before 9:30, 764 people had active applications.

“For a site that’s been up for 25 minutes, it’s not bad,” he said.

Counihan later joined Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who is chairwoman of the Access Health board, at its downtown Hartford call center for a mid-afternoon press conference to mark a milestone on the long-march to expanding health-care coverage.

"We are up and running," Wyman said.

"You get a lot of proud moments when you are governor, and this is one of the proudest," Malloy said.

Access Health is the state’s health insurance exchange, a key piece of the law commonly known as Obamacare. It’s intended to offer customers a chance to comparison-shop for health plans offered by private insurers, and many of the shoppers are expected to qualify for federal subsidies that could make their premiums significantly cheaper.

Access Health is meant for people who buy insurance on their own, the uninsured, and small businesses. Officials expect it will enroll 80,000 to 100,000 people in its first year. The enrollment period that began Tuesday runs through March 31. The coverage it sells won’t take effect until Jan. 1.

Officials have warned that glitches are likely with the system. And midway through the morning, the website wasn’t fully accessible, giving some visitors a “logout confirmation” message rather than the intended system for exploring options and signing up.

By noon, the website appeared to be more functional.

Enrollment isn’t expected to be high Tuesday, since the earliest the plans take effect is January. But many people are expected to begin comparing their options and trying to find out which doctors and hospitals take the plans offered through the exchange.

As of 9 a.m., Counihan said the website had received 110,000 hits Tuesday, including 76,000 from in Connecticut. After the press conference, Counihan said the site had 123,000 visits and the call center also was busy, with a typical call taking 7.5 minutes.

People can apply online (www.accesshealthct.com), through the Access Health call center (855-805-4325), or using a paper application.

Connecticut’s exchange website woes weren’t unique. According to The Advisory Board Company, a consulting firm that has a running list of how well exchange are working nationally, 15 states had “glitchy” sites Tuesday morning, including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Vermont and Colorado.

New York’s exchange, called the NY State of Health, posted a message on its website Tuesday saying that “overwhelming interest,” including 2 million visits in the first two hours, had led to log-in issues.

Mark Pazniokas contributed to this report.

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