First Access Health CT transition fair for Medicaid is a bust

A sign outside the women's center in Danbury directs Access Health CT customers to the transition enrollment fair Wednesday afternoon.

A sign outside the women’s center in Danbury directs Access Health CT customers to the transition enrollment fair Wednesday afternoon.

DANBURY — Some 14,000 low-income parents will lose their state-sponsored Medicaid health insurance coverage Aug. 1, so Connecticut’s health care insurance exchange held an enrollment fair Wednesday to help them find a replacement plan.

Nobody came.

“We gotta get the word out there,” said Debra Eastman, assistant manager of storefronts and community enrollment partner sites for Access Health CT. “It will be one of our top priorities to figure out how we’re going to get to this population that’s here in Danbury.”

The agency had sent postcards to all the affected Medicaid customers inviting them to the fair. After four hours of waiting with the doors open, however, it was apparent no one would attend.

Officials at the event wondered aloud whether the event’s time and location – the second floor of the women’s center in downtown Danbury – might have discouraged individuals from turning out. They also speculated that an overwhelming number of other state-mandated communications might have hampered efforts to promote the event.

Regardless of the cause, officials were visibly disappointed by the event’s attendance.

The afternoon began with cautious optimism. The event was meant to give people an opportunity to speak directly with representatives from the exchange and insurance providers. Representatives from insurance providers ConnectiCare and HealthyCT laid out dozens of flyers on their tables for prospective customers, but they ultimately remained untouched.

Brokers began trickling out a little after 3 p.m. Tables started coming down at 4:30 p.m.

“If we were here for a few more days, people would start trickling in,” said Ana Pereira-Fieschi, an enrollment specialist for the exchange in the Danbury area. She said she saw higher turnout at events during the open enrollment period.

But with the Aug. 1 deadline looming, the exchange has directed its efforts to holding events in every region of the state by mid-July, even if it is on relatively short notice. Full details about the transition fairs were not released until June 15, meaning there was little time for additional promotion before the Danbury event and a similar Waterbury event scheduled for Thursday.

Individuals are being forced to transition off Medicaid because of changes to eligibility levels caused by increasing state budgetary constraints. More than 732,000 people were receiving coverage through the state’s Medicaid program, known as HUSKY, at the beginning of 2016, but that number is now set to drop.

The changes enacted will affect the state’s HUSKY A plan, which provides health coverage to children and parents.

The state budget passed last year cut the income limit for the program from 201 percent of the poverty level to 155 percent for adults. But federal law allows people who would otherwise lose Medicaid to receive 12 more months of coverage, if they have earned income. Those slated to lose HUSKY at the end of July are parents who qualified for the extra 12 months of coverage. (Children’s eligibility has not changed.)

Transition enrollment fairs are just one part of the exchange’s efforts to connect with those losing coverage, according to Jim Wadleigh, CEO of Access Health.

“The enrollment fairs are part of a larger outreach initiative undertaken … to provide those transitioning off Medicaid with direct person-to-person assistance in finding a new plan,” Wadleigh said in a June 15 press release. “We will also be reaching out via postcards and letters, phone calls from live customer service representatives, social media and through collaboration with community partners including hospitals, health advocacy groups and local community support centers.”

The exchange plans to hold six additional fairs in the coming weeks across the state. Eastman said turnout is expected to improve at future events, as the earlier fairs tend to have the most limited turnout.

  • June 23: Waterbury – Waterbury Industrialization Center (1 p.m. – 5 p.m.)
  • June 29: Stamford – Optimus Health Center (1 p.m. – 5 p.m.)
  • June 30: Norwich – United Community and Family Services (1 p.m. – 5 p.m.)
  • July 7: Hartford – Hartford Public Library (1 p.m. – 5 p.m.)
  • July 13: New Haven – Access Health CT New Haven Enrollment Center (1 p.m. – 5 p.m.)
  • July 14: Bridgeport – Bridgeport Public Library (11 a.m. – 3 p.m.)