New Britain -- Connecticut’s first health insurance “storefronts" are open for business, and so, officials want you to know, is the state's health insurance exchange.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman used Thursday’s ceremonial opening of the New Britain insurance enrollment center as a chance to draw contrasts between Connecticut’s relatively problem-free exchange, known as Access Health CT, and the problem-plagued federally run exchanges.
While the federal exchanges have struggled, Access Health has had a relatively stable system and has enrolled close to 9,500 people in coverage -- private insurance and Medicaid -- so far.
Malloy said he believes some potential Connecticut customers are avoiding Access Health because they think it has the same well-publicized problems of the federal exchanges.
“People are confused by national TV,” Malloy said. “As great as our numbers are, I think it’s hurting our numbers.”
The exchanges were created by the federal health law commonly known as Obamacare. The private insurance plans they sell take effect Jan. 1.
The Access Health store on Main Street in New Britain, and a similar one in New Haven, offer state residents a place to explore their options and sign up for coverage, with assistance if they need it. Exchange officials think the stores are the first of their kind in the country.
“We kind of ripped this idea off from Apple,” Access Health CEO Kevin Counihan said.
Initially, officials had planned to open several across the state, but that plan was scaled back after they realized how complicated it was to open a retail store. Counihan indicated that Access Health might consider opening additional enrollment centers in parts of the state with high rates of uninsured residents, based on the feedback from the first two stores.
Counihan said about 50 people have signed up for coverage through the New Britain store, which opened last week. The store has an area for children to play while their parents talk to an Access Health staffer.
Malloy praised the Access Health staff for their efforts to ensure the state's exchange was ready to launch Oct. 1, including testing the system a month before it went live and outsourcing many functions so the staff could focus on a smaller number of items. He said he was frustrated with the problems at the federal level, because, “I’m tired of sharing their bad news, interrupting our good news.”
Although Connecticut’s exchange has run more smoothly than most in the country, it has had some glitches, and Counihan said more should be expected. “This is inevitable with an application this complicated,” he said.
In addition, outages in the federal data hub used to verify information about applicants have caused periods during which Access Health was unable to process applications. Officials are trying to reduce the exchange's reliance on the federal data system.
The enrollment centers are located at 200 Main St., in New Britain, and 55 Church St., in New Haven. They are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays; and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. Appointments are recommended and can be made by calling the Access Health call center at 855-805-4325.