This is a picture of Access Health's New Britain store
Access Health's New Britain store Arielle Levin Becker / CTMirror file photo
The Access Health CT storefront in New Britain (file photo)
The Access Health CT storefront in New Britain (CT Mirror file photo) Arielle Levin Becker /

Updated at 1:35 p.m.

Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance exchange, is extending by two days the initial deadline for people to sign up for 2017 health plans.

Thursday had been the deadline to sign up for private insurance plans that would provide coverage starting Jan. 1. The exchange is extending that deadline to Dec. 17 at midnight.

But people who want to sign up on Friday or Saturday for coverage that starts Jan. 1 must do so through the Access Health call center or in person at one of the exchange’s enrollment centers, and request Jan. 1. coverage, exchange CEO Jim Wadleigh said.

The extension is the result of “unprecedented demand,” Wadleigh said. On Wednesday, he said, about 4,400 people signed up for coverage, including 1,700 new customers. Overall, since the enrollment period began Jan. 1, 22,000 new customers have signed up, he said.

The open enrollment period for individual-market health plans runs through Jan. 31, but people who sign up after Saturday won’t have coverage until Feb. 1 at the earliest. The deadline for coverage that starts Feb. 1 is Jan. 15; those who sign up between Jan. 15 and Jan. 31 will get coverage that begins March 1.

Compared to last year, Wadleigh said Thursday that the exchange’s sign-ups were up by 4 percent, while visits to the storefront enrollment centers and community enrollment assistance sites were up by 26 percent. The higher number of visits probably reflects the fact that the insurance companies selling plans through Access Health are not paying commissions to agents and brokers for exchange plans, Wadleigh said. Anticipating customers would have fewer places to turn for help picking plans as a result, Access Health added brokers to its storefronts and call center.

There also has been an uptick in customers who don’t qualify for financial assistance, Wadleigh said. About three-quarters of the exchange’s current customers qualify for federal tax credits to discount their premiums.

Last year, 116,019 people signed up for plans through the exchange during the three-month open enrollment period, although enrollment fell over the course of the year.

As of mid-day Thursday, about 12,000 current Access Health customers were slated to lose their coverage Jan. 1 unless they took action to pick another plan. That group includes people whose insurance companies are no longer selling plans through the exchange, whose specific plans are being discontinued, or who need to provide additional information to the exchange to maintain their eligibility, Wadleigh said.

Access Health has been tracking customers of the two insurance companies that are exiting the exchange in 2017. About 800 to 900 customers of UnitedHealthcare have yet to pick a plan for 2017, as have 4,000 to 5,000 people with coverage through HealthyCT.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, one of two insurers selling 2017 plans through the exchange, said in a statement that its enrollment so far is consistent with last year’s volume. Its 2017 individual-market business appears to be split between plans sold through Access Health and those sold outside the exchange.

The exchange’s call center can be reached at 1-855-805-4325. It will be open until midnight Thursday; from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday; and from 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday.

The exchange’s storefronts in New Haven and New Britain will be open until midnight Thursday; from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

For more information on Obamacare and signing up for coverage, visit The Mirror’s Guide to health care in Connecticut.

Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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