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American Rescue Plan expanded Access Health CT coverage to include more of the middle class: Does anyone know about it?

By Marc Fitch, Yankee Institute. Reprinted by permission from Yankee Institute

The American Rescue Plan expanded the pool of people eligible to participate in Access Health CT, allowing Connecticut residents who were previously ineligible to participate in the program because of higher incomes to gain access much lower insurance premiums.

For the next two years, those with household incomes between 400 and 600 percent of the federal poverty level can receive coverage through Access Health CT. That means a family of four with household earnings of more than $106,000 can now receive federal subsidies to lower their healthcare premiums for the next two years.

But do these newly eligible Connecticut residents know of their options?

According to Caroline Lee, marketing director for Access Health CT, Connecticut received $85 million through the ARP to reduce healthcare coverage costs and says that, as of August, 55,000 enrollees “have benefited from more than $5.5 million in additional monthly premium savings through ARPA.”

“Enrollees who have household incomes that are 400 percent or higher than the Federal Poverty Level are saving an average of $580 per month on premium costs – these are the enrollees that may not have been previously eligible for financial savings before ARPA,” Lee wrote in an email.

According Access Health CT’s annual reports, 105,000 residents enrolled in the program in 2020 and this year’s enrollment is basically the same so far, sitting just shy of 105,000.

But Jennifer Lovett, a top-producing health insurance agent and owner of Crystal Financial Services in South Windsor, believes the quasi-public agency hasn’t done enough to let newly eligible Connecticut residents know they could be saving money on their insurance premiums through tax credits.

Lovett helped train brokers for Access Health CT when the program first launched and previously served on Access Health CT’s Board of Directors before being removed because she runs a brokerage firm.

“Access Health absolutely dropped the ball on this,” Lovett said. “They didn’t advertise it. They sent out some letters and things like that but because Access Health sends out so much junk mail, it got overlooked.”

“It’s the first time the middle class actually got a break because the middle class is who keeps paying the premiums for everybody,” Lovett said. “The savings is astronomical. They could go from paying full price down to $30 or $40.”

Lovett uses the example of a couple who retired early and are taking in $70,000 per year. Before ARPA they would have had to pay out of pocket for health insurance, possibly costing upwards of $20,000 per year, and wouldn’t receive tax credits for those payments. Now, that same couple could see their insurance costs greatly reduced.

“This could help a lot of people and they don’t know about it. We should have been really busy these last few months,” Lovett continued. “Typically, when Access Health has something special like this, they advertise it, and we get a lot of calls.”

Access Health CT, however, says they have been advertising, launching two campaigns – one in May and one in September — to get people enrolled in the program and let them know of the new opportunity for savings.

The latest advertising campaign has included billboards in Hartford and New Haven, articles in newspapers, social media advertisements and radio ads, along with mail and email contact with consumers, Lee wrote.

“Data from the AHCT uninsured research guided efforts about where and when to place advertising, including a focus on media that reaches communities with high rates of uninsured and underinsured populations,” Lee said.

However, Lovett believes focusing advertising efforts on the uninsured in places like Hartford and New Haven misses the point of the income eligibility expansion because the expansion allows people who likely already have insurance and are paying full price to enroll and save a lot of money.

“People who had never bought [insurance] through the exchange before, they bought it direct because they knew they didn’t qualify, they could have qualified for this. A lot of people qualify for this,” Lovett said.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the expanded eligibility will raise the number of people who can participate in marketplaces like Access Health CT by 20 percent nationwide.

“With the passage of the ARPA, we find the vast majority (92%) of current individual market purchasers (on and off exchange) are now eligible for Marketplace subsidies, so long as off-exchange purchasers are willing to move onto exchange coverage,” KFF wrote.

A special enrollment deadline of October 31 is just weeks away, but residents can also sign up during the regular enrollment period which runs from November 1 to December 15.

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