Enrollment brisk, demand high at first Connecticut Obamacare enrollment deadline

Enrollment in insurance plans offered as part of the federal health law continued to surge Monday, the last day to sign up for coverage that takes effect Jan. 1.

“We’re just exploding here today,” Kevin Counihan, CEO of Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance exchange, said Monday.

As of 5 p.m. Monday, just over 59,100 people had signed up for health care coverage offered by the exchange, up from close to 56,000 Sunday night, Counihan said. The enrollment figures include people buying private insurance and those who will receive Medicaid.

At Access Health’s enrollment center in New Britain, one of two storefronts the exchange operates, there was already a line outside when workers opened the store at 9 a.m., an hour earlier than usual, store manager Larease Royes said. On Sunday, when the store opened at its usual time, there were 28 people waiting, she said.

“It’s been like that for the last few days,” she said.

Despite reports Monday that the White House had extended the deadline for people to enroll in coverage through healthcare.gov, the website for the exchanges in 34 states, Connecticut’s exchange is not changing the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for getting coverage that starts Jan. 1.

“We are not healthcare.gov. We are not extending our open enrollment,” spokeswoman Kathleen Tallarita said.

Royes said many people seemed to be confused about the deadline, worried that if they didn’t sign up by Monday, they wouldn’t get insurance.

Monday is the deadline to enroll in coverage through Access Health to get insurance that takes effect Jan. 1.

But people who miss that deadline can still sign up for insurance. The exchange is accepting enrollment in private insurance through March 31. In addition, people who qualify for Medicaid can sign up for that program at any time during the year, although those who go more than three months without coverage could face a financial penalty.

As part of the federal health law, the state's Medicaid program is expanding Jan. 1 to cover more adults who don't have minor children. Some of those counted in Access Health's enrollment figures are people who qualify for the state's existing Medicaid program and signed up through the state Department of Social Services. Exchange officials call that portion of their enrollment count "organic" Medicaid growth.

The New Britain enrollment center was crowded Monday as visitors waited to meet with people trained to address questions and help them sign up for coverage. One woman, who buys her own insurance and was hoping to find a less-expensive option, sat on the floor with her two children.

Because the chairs in the waiting area were all taken, Jose Cintron stood while he waited. Cintron, 40, had worked in institutional laundries before losing his job in September. “I’m just hoping that I get something that can help me out,” the New Britain resident said.

Cintron said he’d been having stomach problems and nausea, but without insurance, he hadn’t had them checked out.

“I don’t have any money to buy medication,” he said.

John Tracz, 59, had also been going without medical care since his COBRA benefits expired. Two years ago, he was laid off from his job of 32 years. He works two part-time jobs, including one at Stop & Shop, but doesn’t get insurance from either one. “I’m 59, no health insurance, no more pension, no nothing,” he said. “Thank God my kids are educated” and grown up.

Tracz lives in Plainville and said he figured coming to the store would be easier than applying for coverage online himself. He had questions about how the benefits worked, including the details related to plan deductibles and preventive care.

He said he was eager to no longer be uninsured.

“It’s the first thing I think of in the morning and the last thing I think of before I go to bed at night,” he said.

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