By MATTHEW STURDEVANT, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
7:49 PM EDT, October 1, 2013
Connecticut's new health exchange opened for business Tuesday despite some confusion caused by a partial shutdown of the federal government.
The new marketplace processed 167 applications Tuesday — 83 for subsidized purchases of commercial health insurance policies and 84 for Medicaid.
The health exchange — called Access Health CT — allows people to buy health coverage for next year as part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Some people said Tuesday they thought the shutdown had halted the Affordable Care Act. Neither did the shutdown keep the Connecticut system from connecting to a federal data hub that interacts with various agencies to verify a person's identity and income. The federal information is used to determine tax credits or subsidies to make insurance more affordable.
The new system, which offers individual and small group health plans through four health insurers, had its first sale by 9:30 a.m. The website, http://www.accesshealthct.com, had 28,280 unique visitors by 4 p.m. Tuesday compared with an average 15,000 in a week.
The website had some "sporadic issues," but on average, people were shown the web pages they requested within 0.5 seconds, according to Access Health CT.
Hartford resident Brendan Mahoney, 30, said signing up took him about 20 minutes. Mahoney, a third-year law student at the University of Connecticut, said that by filling out the application online, he discovered he was eligible for Medicaid. So, beginning next year, he won't pay any premium at all.
In 2011 and 2012, Mahoney said, he was on a school-sponsored health plan costing about $2,400 a year. That was too expensive, he said, so this year he took out his own coverage: a high-deductible, low-premium plan that cost about $39 a month through a UnitedHealthcare subsidiary.
By going through the application process Tuesday, he found that he wouldn't pay even that much.
Yes, It's Open
Although some people had no problem signing up, there was some general confusion Tuesday about the state of Obamacare.
Malik Shabazz, 46, who was waiting Tuesday morning at a bus stop at the New Haven Green, said he thought the government shutdown voided the Affordable Care Act — a sentiment echoed by others interviewed nearby. Shabazz said he supports the law if it helps people get coverage. He has Medicaid for this wife, 10-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter.
One sad irony, he said, is that his wife has worked 17 years as a home health care aide and she doesn't have health insurance through work. Shabazz, a truck driver, said he also doesn't have coverage available to him through work.
"I just try to prevent going to the hospital … I stay away from stuff that's not good for the body because I can't afford it," Shabazz said.
Also at the bus stop, Kayla Rivera, 22, said her job as a patient care associate at Yale-New Haven Hospital pays enough that she narrowly makes too much to qualify for Medicaid. Rivera is a single mother who is eight months pregnant. She has health coverage through work, though the co-pays and deductibles for ultrasounds and doctor visits make her disposable income relative to "flipping burgers," Rivera said.
Rivera said she thinks it's too costly to have the federal government subsidize health insurance costs, which the Affordable Care Act does through tax credits funded by taxes on health care industries. "It's way too expensive," Rivera said.
Back at the Access Health CT call center in Hartford, 45 workers were answering phones as people called in to ask questions or to sign up. The call center received at least 1,930 phone calls Tuesday.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy attended a media event in the afternoon to congratulate those involved.
"Because we took the time and the effort to be ready, to handle the calls, to have our ducks in a row, if you will, we are in far better shape than those states and governors that have turned their back on this historic program and this historic offering," Malloy said.
Officials at the exchange had predicted there would be "bumps in the road" as they launched the new system. Mahoney — the law school student — hit one when he went on the exchange's website about 8:45 a.m. He said the system could not verify his identity. So, he said, he called the toll-free number, and an operator there said a computer problem there also prevented verification.
But then he logged on a second time, he said, and the system worked.
"Once it got running, it was fast," Mahoney said. "It really made my day. It's a lot like TurboTax."
"If I get sick, I'll definitely go to the doctor."
The new online marketplace, funded by federal dollars from the Affordable Care Act, will have quirks in the beginning, Kevin Counihan, CEO of Access Health CT, said Monday. "We're getting into virgin territory for all of this."
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.
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