Nearly 1 million people in Connecticut chose health insurance plans for 2021 through Access Health CT, the state’s Affordable Care Act marketplace, new data show.
That includes a year-over-year uptick in the number of people eligible for low-income insurance programs under HUSKY Health. Experts say some of that was likely driven by the pandemic.
“Over 90 percent of [Access Health] customers who come through the exchange qualify for financial help, low-cost or free coverage,” said Andrea Ravitz, director of marketing.
The annual open enrollment period began Nov. 1 and took place during a pandemic as well as a presidential election. Initially slated to end Dec. 15, the enrollment period was extended another month.
“The pandemic absolutely played a crucial role in that decision,” Ravitz said.
According to 2019 data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 53% of Connecticut’s population got health insurance coverage from their employers.
“There were so many individuals and, still today, that didn’t know about us because they got their insurance through their employer, so they really didn’t need to really pay attention to a lot of the messages that were out there,” Ravitz said.
But the pandemic triggered record-high unemployment rates last spring and summer, causing a significant number of residents to lose income and seek health coverage elsewhere.
“This has been almost like a higher rate and frequency of individuals interacting with the exchange, which is not normal with any other year,” Ravitz said.
Access Health CT helped enroll about 800,000 people in HUSKY Health, which includes Medicaid and CHIP. This population grew by 16.2% -- or 116,500 people -- from what it was in 2019.
Ravitz said some of that also comes from a short-term special enrollment period held in March for people who were already uninsured at the beginning of the pandemic. The goal was to get coverage for as many people as possible before the public health crisis worsened.
Another 105,000 residents selected individual qualified health plans on the exchange during the most recent annual open enrollment period.
Despite the pandemic, Access Health CT has provided assistance over the phone, online and in person. But Ravitz said her team had to approach outreach plans differently this time around, in part to account for all the people who now needed insurance but were unfamiliar with Access Health.
“We needed to start from the very beginning almost, like looking at strategies that we used the first year when we introduced the marketplace in Connecticut,” she said.
Annual enrollment is over, but Ravitz said Access Health is now focused on supporting people in the use of their insurance coverage and helping others who become eligible for special enrollment.
“Making sure that people are aware that if they lose their job, if they move to Connecticut, if they get married, have a baby, turn 26, those are qualifying life events,” she said, “and they can come and enroll through Access Health.”