Exchange sign-ups well short of 2015 projections

By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

Dogged by glitches, Colorado’s health exchange has signed up about 140,000 people for private health insurance so far for 2015. That number is far below the lowest projection of 168,777 for all of 2015 and a high projection of 242,777 for the year.

Of those who have signed up this year, 95,000 — or about 68 percent — were renewing customers. The remaining customers were new.

Source: Connect for Health Colorado.

Source: Connect for Health Colorado.

The open enrollment season ended on Feb. 15. Exchange officials have vowed to allow anyone who began applying for coverage to complete the process.

Problems with an eligibility system that Colorado’s Medicaid managers, the state’s Office of Information Technology and state IT contractors took the lead in building have been preventing thousands of people from signing up this year. (Click here to read Exchange snafus trip up thousands as more cost overruns mount.) Anyone who wants to apply for tax subsidies must first apply for Medicaid. If applicants don’t qualify, they can then shop for private insurance through the exchange. On top of problems with that system, an exchange IT glitch caused 3,600 customers who were supposed to have been automatically renewed to be bumped from their insurance instead.

KUSA Channel 9 was the first media outlet to report on yet another problem in which the shared system with the state has been inaccurately calculating income for applicants. Instead of considering one year’s income, the IT system was adding income from two or more years, giving people wildly incorrect annual salary estimates.

Marc Williams, a spokesman for state Medicaid managers, said as soon as problems have been detected, they have been fixed. He said the Colorado Office of Information Technology provides maintenance and updates for the shared system and takes direction from both Medicaid and exchange managers. He said any customers who have struggled with the system ultimately will get coverage.

Williams said 75 percent of people who have applied for either Medicaid or tax credits have gotten “real-time” answers.

“The SES (Shared Eligibility System) has performed very well in getting people an eligibility determination, which is what it’s supposed to do,” Williams said in an email.

Snapshot of sign-ups for health coverage around the country

Florida: 1.6 million
California: 1.4 million
Texas: 1.2 million
North Carolina: 559,500
Georgia: 537,000
Pennsylvania: 472,000
Virginia: 385,000
Illinois: 347,000
Michigan: 341,000
Wisconsin: 205,839
Arizona: 204,187
Colorado: 139,652
Maryland: 119,096

Health coverage guides throughout the state and customers who have had problems, however, have come to health exchange board meetings and flooded the exchange’s call center to try to get problems fixed.

While the sign-up period for 2015 has ended, people who have life-change events, such as moving to the state or losing coverage from a job, can still sign up later in the year. Last year, about 4,000 additional customers per month continued to sign up after the open enrollment ended.

Exchange communications consultant Curtis Hubbard said that Connect for Health is “more than two-thirds of the way toward” year-end projections and emphasized that exchange managers made all projections based on sign-ups for all of 2015.

But, even if an additional 40,000 people sign up in the remaining months of 2015, managers will not reach their mid-level projection of 194,277 for the full year.

“We are well ahead of where we were on this date last year, and ahead of where we were at the end of open enrollment last year,” Hubbard said in an email.

Sign ups through Colorado’s exchange will be increasingly more important since they generate user fees. Connect for Health Colorado was supposed to be financially self-sustaining this year, but managers have permission to continue spending $183 million in federal grant funds along with left-over funds from Colorado’s catastrophic insurance program and assessments on people who buy health insurance outside the exchange.

So far, during the three-month open enrollment period that ended Feb. 15, Connect for Health is reporting that 139,652 people enrolled in private coverage. An additional 76,194 qualified for Medicaid and 3,720 qualified for a program for children called CHP+. Nearly 25,000 people also signed up for dental insurance. Altogether, about 54 percent qualified for tax subsidies aimed at making health insurance more affordable.

“We are pleased that so many Coloradans took the important step of getting health insurance coverage through us,” Gary Drews, interim CEO for the exchange said in a press release. “Those folks will be able to feel more financially secure, become healthier, and — in the case of one man I met at our downtown enrollment center who is planning to get eye surgery with his new coverage — see again.”

The next open enrollment for 2016 will be even shorter. It is slated to begin on Oct. 1 and end on Dec. 7 of this year.

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