By Ann-Marie Adams
Access Health CT, Connecticut’s official health insurance marketplace, reported a single-day record number of individuals applied for coverage by midnight on Dec. 23: more than 6,700. This figure, officials of the state agency boasted, puts the total number enrolled from Oct. 1 to Dec. 23 at about 62,000.
But people whose applications were not processed, or who had been waiting on the phone for more than 90 minutes, are not impressed.
Almost 300,000 Connecticut residents do not have health insurance. In Hartford County alone, 98,000 people lack coverage. Of that amount, 34,000 are in Hartford. Most of the uninsured in the capital city and the state are people of color and would have surely benefited from the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. It’s the first nationwide health reform since President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society effort with Medicare in 1965.
Just think. If the state’s quasi-nonprofit agency had planned a more effective and inclusive enrollment period to meet the demand, many more people would have signed up, so that they could have had comprehensive health insurance effective Jan. 1.
For the thousands of people who did not get to enroll, hearing that they can continue to enroll up to March 31 without a tax penalty does not soothe the pain of learning they would have to wait another 30 days from enrollment for insurance to kick in, especially if they have a pre-existing need for insurance. All they have to look forward to at this point is more snafus or bureaucratic mazes to navigate.
Consider this: For one individual, enrolling online was a chore that failed. On Dec. 3, she filled out an application and submitted it through Access CT’s portal. By Dec. 23, she had yet to receive confirmation that her application was processed. She also tried to log in, but was kicked off the site. So at about 4 p.m., she called the 800 numbers listed on Dec. 23. She received a recording saying that she should leave her number and someone would return her call the next business day.
This woman tried again several times until her last call at 10:06 p.m. — hoping to get someone on the phone. After waiting for about 30 minutes, someone answered and asked her name and age then put her on hold for 90 minutes. At 10 minutes before midnight, another agent came on the line and said that it was too late to enroll her.
It was a curious experience that demands answers: was the woman put on hold that long because she was over 40? Was Access CT screening calls so they could sign up mostly customers under 40? Why was there a recording throughout most of the day on Dec. 23, saying customers should call back the next day? How many people of color were signed up? If the state doesn’t have that number as reported earlier, then can we know why? And most importantly, how many of the 34,000 uninsured people in Hartford were signed up?
There were other reported issues. But the main concern now is whether those individuals who were put on hold for waits lasting about an hour or who were locked out of the site, would be considered enrolled.
Although there are many assisters and navigators who have worked hard during the last several months, The Hartford Guardian has witnessed much bumbling during the enrollment period here. In fact, there were numerous warnings, one from Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra himselfsaying that “if you don’t market it and recruit people in an appropriate place, you could still end up with a lot of uninsured.” And that is the case — because of the incompetence and arrogance of those who guided the enrollment campaign.
There is also clearly conflict of interest and cronyism involved in how resources and marketing efforts were distributed, especially in Hartford. And these strategies and conflicts impacted the number of people and which segments of the population got enrolled on the exchange.
For instance, The Guardian couldn’t help but notice that the so-called Navigator for the city of Hartford was the Hispanic Health Council, an agency whose founding member is Mayor Segarra. We also couldn’t help but notice that Juan Figueroa, who was president of Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, is now Segarra’s acting chief of staff. Figueroa also had a hand in crafting strategies leading up to the state’s health reform push that began in January 2013. And he sits on the board of director for a news outlet charged with being the official organ of everything positive about Access Health CT.
We also noticed that resources were directed to community papers, which quietly ignored the fact that there was reportedly only one person in the North End to cover half that populous section. And that most of the marketing efforts in the city targeted the South End of Hartford, just one of the city’s 17 neighborhoods.
We are happy to see that Access Health CT has taken steps to correct its errors and is now “actively reaching out” to those people who were on hold Dec. 23. These frustrated applicants should indeed now be considered eligible for coverage effective Jan. 1.
However, appeal process in place for others should also take into account the insufficient recruitment efforts made in some city neighborhoods, which were seemingly overlooked because of sub-par marketing strategies and outreach.
An we hope the appeal process won’t be as painful as it was waiting online for 90 minutes without a positive outcome.
Individuals interested in filling an appeal should either call 855-805-4325 or mail their appeal to Access Health CT Appeals, P.O. Box # 670, Manchester, CT 06045-0670.
Dr. Ann-Marie Adams is founder and editor of The Hartford Guardian. Follow her on twitter.