Open enrollment periods for two of the nation’s largest health insurance programs and marketplaces are running concurrently, but time is ticking.
Connecticut state officials and health insurance experts are urging people to pick health plans now before it’s too late to secure coverage for 2021, which will see a continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic and its long-term impacts.
“We’re really experiencing an unprecedented crisis and needs in the state,” said Vicki Veltri, executive director of the state Office of Health Strategy. “Now’s the time to really take advantage of this open enrollment period.”
Connecticut residents who do not get employer-sponsored health insurance can purchase plans through the federal Medicare program or Access Health Connecticut, the state’s Affordable Care Act marketplace. Each program has a limited open enrollment period, and both are ending this month.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said there’s even greater urgency this year in ensuring people get health coverage as Connecticut’s unemployment rate -- estimated at 11% by state officials -- remains high.
“We have had some job gains, but we still have many people in our state that are unemployed, and with that, they have likely lost their insurance coverage,” Bysiewicz said during a virtual roundtable Monday.
Medicare is the primary insurance program for residents 65 years and older, as well as younger people with disabilities. It covered more than 693,000 Connecticut residents as of October, according to federal data.
Medicare’s open enrollment period began Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7, which is when residents must renew or select new insurance plans for coverage next year.
Judith Stein, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Center for Medicare Advocacy, said it’s especially important for existing customers to review their current plans, for coverage of certain prescriptions and health care services often change year to year.
There are also additional deadlines to make any changes to plan selections, depending on which types of Medicare coverage a person chooses.
“There’s unfortunately a lot of complexity and a lot of moving targets,” Stein said.
The state’s CHOICES program assists older adults and people with disabilities with enrollment and plan selections at no cost.
Meanwhile, all other individuals and small businesses can buy health insurance for 2021 through Access Health Connecticut, which also helps people determine their eligibility for HUSKY Health, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income residents and children.
Nearly 108,000 people enrolled in Access Health plans last year. So far, more than 100,000 residents have done the same this year, with about two weeks remaining in the open enrollment period ending Dec. 15.
“We are seeing a modest increase so far,” said James Michel, Access Health CEO, “but again, this year is unlike any other year, so it’s hard to predict how things are going to end up.”
The state Insurance Department in September approved an average increase of 0.01% in premium costs for state-regulated individual plans, as well as an average increase of 4.1% for small group plans.
Overall, the average rate increases are smaller than in years past, “so we hope that incentivizes people to enroll,” Veltri said. Actual premium prices differ for each specific plan and insurance carrier.
Veltri said getting coverage going into 2021 will be critical as she predicts a “pent-up” demand for health care services due to the pandemic.
“Meaning, people who have not gone to the doctor this year who actually need access to services shortly or now or beginning in January, [and] having the insurance card ... that makes a big difference in terms of your ability to access care pretty easily,” she said.
Looking more long term, Ted Doolittle says reducing overall health care costs for residents has and continues to be a top priority, and that includes capping or slowing the growth of things like premiums, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs.
But the state’s health care advocate admits that there’s only so much that can be done on the state level without federal intervention.
“Health care should be a stable thing that you can understand and rely on. It’s not in our country,” Doolittle said. “So people just have to stay alert and stay sophisticated.”