A shutdown of the federal government would not prohibit people from buying health insurance on Connecticut's new online marketplace, which opens for business Tuesday, the executive in charge of the operation said Monday.
The new online marketplace, funded by federal dollars from the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, will have quirks in the beginning regardless of any shutdown, said Kevin Counihan, CEO of Connecticut's online marketplace, Access Health CT. "We're getting into virgin territory for all of this," Counihan said.
Counihan and others at Access Health CT have cautioned that there will be "bumps in the road" as the new insurance retail business gets started. A federal shutdown would add to the complexity of a system that invites the state's 345,000 uninsured to log in, enter their income data, shop for different health plans offered by various insurers, and connect to a federal data hub that interacts with at least four federal agencies.
"It's like taking something that is extraordinarily complex and then adding just another bizarre complexity to it," Counihan said.
If the shutdown was expected to affect Connecticut's new system, the federal government wasn't warning Access Health CT about it. Counihan said he was on the phone Friday with the White House, and officials there were confident the federal data hub would be live and functioning on Tuesday, though it could have glitches because it's new.
In a series of practice runs, Access Health CT has been successful and operational.
For the state exchange to work, it must interact with the federal data hub, which connects people signing up for coverage with several agencies: the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Tuesday will be the first day that Access Health CT connects to live, actual IRS data to verify the past year's income of people signing up for coverage, Counihan said. Federal tax credits are available to people who earn up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, and some people may qualify for government-funded Medicaid health care, though both options require income verification.
In practice runs leading up to the start of open enrollment on Oct. 1, Access Health CT has only connected to a set of veritable dummy data that the federal government made available strictly to determine if the exchanges work.
Counihan's advice to customers: Get on the web site. Call the call center. If Connecticut's system is at all like one that launched years ago in Massachusetts, the average person is going to have 15 to 18 interactions between the website, a call center, a family member and a broker before making a buying decision, he said.
People are likely to take a look at the system Tuesday, but there is a lot of time before the health coverage for sale takes effect on Jan. 1, Counihan said. The success of the new marketplace won't be determined in the first days, he said.
"Recognize that this is the first day of a three-year implementation," Counihan said.
Information about the exchange is available at Access Health CT's website, http://www.accesshealthct.com, or through its toll free number, 855-805-4325. The call center is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.