This is a picture of Access Health's New Britain store
Access Health’s New Britain store Arielle Levin Becker / CTMirror file photo
Access Health’s New Britain store Arielle Levin Becker / CTMirror file photo

As the deadline to sign up for insurance on Connecticut’s Affordable Care Act’s marketplace looms, officials say enrollment in the state is matching last year’s pace.

The state ACA marketplace, Access Health CT, has already signed up about 100,000 individuals and families in the enrollment period that began in October.

By Saturday’s midnight deadline, enrollment may exceed last year’s, when more than 114,000 individuals and families purchased a plan from ConnectiCare or Anthem, the two carriers offering plans on the exchange.

Nationally, enrollment in ACA state exchanges has decreased from last year. Sign-ups for plans often referred to as “Obamacare” were down last week by 11.7 percent, or 546,000, compared to last year, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

But Connecticut seems to be bucking that trend.

“Connecticut has been pretty responsible in spending on outreach and advertising,” said Andrea Ravitz, director of marketing at Access Health CT.

Ravitz said the state has spent about $4 million on advertising and outreach to prod Connecticut residents to sign up, and encourage those already enrolled in an ACA plan to shop around on the Access Health CT site to determine if there’s better, cheaper coverage for them next year.

Individuals and families can still sign up for coverage that begins Jan. 1. Enrollment is available online, over the phone (855-805-4325), and at seven enrollment locations across the state on Friday. There will also be two enrollment fairs on Saturday at Jonathan Law High School in Milford and the University of Connecticut campus in Stamford.

Last year, nearly 75 percent of those enrolled in a plan through Access Health CT were eligible for a subsidy to help them pay their premiums.

To be eligible for that help, a household’s income must be at least 100 – but no more than 400 – percent of the federal poverty level. That would amount to $24,300 to $97,200 for a family of four and from $11,888 to $47,520 for a single individual.

Others may also be eligible for federal help paying out-of-pocket expenses, including co-payments and deductibles.

Ravitz said it is important for those who are auto-enrolled in an Access Health CT plan to shop around this year, since some plans have been eliminated and others have changed and may not include services from a favorite doctor or coverage of a needed prescription.

“The lowest priced plan in 2018 may not be the lowest priced plan in 2019,” she said.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last month, only one-fourth of the people who buy their own insurance or are uninsured knew the deadline to buy an Affordable Care Act plan.

The Trump administration cut funding for ACA advertising and outreach by 90 percent in 2017 and cut a key outreach program by 70 percent this summer, both compared to the previous year.

Those cuts are believed to have impacted enrollment in more than 30 states that rely on the federal ACA exchange.

Connecticut’s exchange, however, is run by the state. Ravitz said Access Health CT’s advertising and outreach has remained vigorous, urging people to sign up through television and radio ads, online banner ads, and posters and billboards throughout the state.

While premium increases this year were modest compared to some of the steep hikes in previous years, there is another factor in the 2019 open enrollment period that could depress sign ups — this the first year that there will be no tax penalty for those who decide not to purchase insurance.

Ravitz said that did not seem to matter in Connecticut, according to a survey Access Health CT conducted in August.

“We asked members about the penalty going away and the vast majority said that had nothing to do with” their decision to purchase insurance, Ravitz said.

To help boost enrollment before Saturday’s open enrollment deadline, former President Barack Obama and other high-profile Democrats have embarked on a social media blitz to remind people to sign up.

Connecticut’s lawmakers are also tweeting out messages.

“REMINDER! Open Enrollment ends on SATURDAY, December 15th! Find a plan that’s right for you and your family today for 2019: …’” Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, tweeted on Thursday.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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