By SUSAN HAIGH
NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut’s health insurance marketplace received a flood of interest Monday from people hoping to secure coverage by the first day of the new year.
Staff at Access Health CT’s New Britain insurance storefront expected to enroll more than 100 people on the day, the last to sign up for coverage that will begin on Jan. 1. While the federal government extended the deadline for states using its website, Connecticut’s deadline was midnight.
Ronshelle McIntyre, a 41-year-old mother from New Britain, arrived around 9:30 a.m. at the insurance store _ one of two Access Health CT has opened _ and dozens like herself hoping to enroll in time to meet the deadline. As of noon, she was among about 40 people waiting to speak with a specialist. Some were told the wait could be two hours or more.
“I don’t mind,” said the mother of three, who sat on a radiator against the wall. “For health insurance, I think all it’s going to cost me is a little bit of time and patience to get it plugged up, you know?”
McIntyre said she was seeking coverage for herself and her youngest two children because their state health care expired Friday.
John Tracz of Plainville has been without health coverage for about three years following a job layoff. The 59-year-old, who now works two part-time jobs, said he decided to visit the store because he isn’t computer savvy and was scared off by the news accounts about problems plaguing the federal health care website.
Tracz said he knew about Monday’s deadline to get coverage, but admits he didn’t take it seriously.
“I figured, how can they have it all done by then?” he asked. “The president is going to have to extend it again, I think.”
On Monday, the federal government did announce it was effectively extending Monday’s deadline for signing up for insurance by a day, giving people in 36 states more time to choose a plan, anticipating heavy traffic on the federal health care website. But Access Health CT stressed that the 24-hour extension only applied to the federally facilitated marketplace and Monday’s deadline remained in place for Connecticut’s marketplace.
Kathleen Tallarita, the spokeswoman for Access Health CT, said foot traffic at the insurance marketplace’s second storefront in New Haven was also busy. Additionally, the website was consistently averaging at 600 to 700 visitors at a time throughout the day. At one point in the late afternoon, more than 900 were viewing the site, she said.
“That’s the most we’ve ever seen at one time,” she said.
Access Health CT’s CEO Kevin Counihan acknowledged Friday that Connecticut officials underestimated the volume of calls that would be made to the marketplace’s call center during the days leading up to this first deadline. Maximus Inc., the company hired to run the call center, expanded its staff from 64 to 146 as of Monday. The center was staying open until midnight.
Access Health on Friday sent almost 26,000 letters by overnight mail and made phone calls to people who started but did not complete their applications for insurance. Counihan said the marketplace wanted to remind those individuals of Monday’s deadline. Tallarita said she believed those letters and calls prompted some of the activity Monday.
“Obviously people are kind of in a panicked state,” she said, adding how a lot of people are contacting Access Health CT to say they haven’t received anything from their new insurance carrier. Tallarita said Access Health was checking to make sure customers have enrolled and to make sure their information was sent to the carrier. She said most of the participating insurers are expected to send out letters to new enrollees by the week or early next week. She said new enrollees have until Jan. 10 to pay their insurance premiums.
As of Friday, 47,000 people in Connecticut have enrolled in health plans. About half have signed up for private insurance and about half in government-funded Medicaid. After the flood of enrollments over the weekend and on Monday, Tallarita said Access Health expects the marketplace could hit its internal enrollment goal of 60,000 by the end of Monday. Access Health has a goal of enrolling 100,000 during the open enrollment period, which began Oct. 1 and ends March 31.
Larease Royes, who manages the New Britain insurance store, said the number of daily customers has tripled in recent days with the first deadline on Monday approaching. About 30 people began lining up an hour early on Sunday for the 10 a.m. opening. On Monday, the store opened an hour earlier, at 9 a.m., to accommodate the crowds. Royes said staff will stay late to help everyone waiting for help.
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