‘Tis the Season – For Enrolling

The second Connect for Health Colorado open enrollment got underway on Saturday, November 15. So far, it has attracted less attention than last year — and that may be a good sign.

The first go-round took place under a media microscope that focused on the sometimes balky website, though Colorado’s technical problems were not nearly as severe as the federal marketplace glitches.

Colorado’s second round is off to a good start. Comparing the first eight days, more than 6,000 Coloradans enrolled this time compared with 204 during the first open enrollment, according to Connect for Health Colorado. Dental plan enrollments are also did better during the first eight days: 936 compared with 87 the first time around, according to the marketplace.

As of November 30, health insurance enrollments had reached 9,782.  

The marketplace has projected enrollments during this three-month open period will range from 54,500 on the low end to 128,500 on the high end. The marketplace projected 114,277 active enrollments for the end of 2014, resulting in estimated total marketplace enrollments of 169,000 to 243,000 for the first two years.

Meanwhile, observers are watching to see if Connect for Health Colorado will be financially sustainable by January, when federal grant funding runs out. The marketplace’s finances made the news this week when the state auditor released a report finding lax financial controls and contract irregularities.  

But on the enrollment front, new strategies are in place.

The success of a walk-in site on the 16th Street Mall, where consumers could sign up for insurance, has led to more sites. There are now 13 walk-in enrollment sites:  Adams County, southeast Denver/Aurora, Colorado Springs, downtown Denver, Greeley, Lafayette, Lakewood, Pueblo, Wheat Ridge and two each in Fort Collins and Grand Junction.

Connect for Health Colorado has also ramped up its public presence with two SUVs displaying its logo. The marketing budget of $4.8 million this time around is less than half the amount it spent during the rollout last year.

The application process has been streamlined this time around. One of the biggest complaints from consumers last year involved red tape in seeking a tax credit. Applicants first had to apply for Medicaid and, once rejected, then had to fill out a second application for the tax credit. This year, one application is needed to find out whether a consumer qualifies for financial assistance.

The Connect for Health Colorado website has some new features as well. Visitors can get navigational assistance from Kyla, an interactive coach/avatar. A new medication screening tool allows shoppers to search for a plan that covers a certain medication. Last year, a consumer had to go through each plan individually for that information.  

Consumers will have an additional 26 plans to choose from this year, bringing the total to 176.

Colorado individual insurance rates are mostly stable, but subsidies are down, meaning some people may pay more for premiums if they renew their plan. That’s because federal tax credits are calculated using the second-lowest cost silver plan in each geographic rating area. Colorado HealthOP, the low-cost carrier in most places, cut premiums for its silver-level plans, changing the benchmark. Connect for Health Colorado is encouraging people to shop for better deals.

As more Coloradans gain coverage, the policy discussion will begin shifting to whether newly insured Coloradans know how to use their benefits and whether they can gain access to quality care.

Do they understand what their plan covers and do they know where to find services? Do they have the necessary transportation to get to a provider? Are there enough providers to meet the growing demand for care?

The Colorado Health Institute will be conducting research to help answer these questions moving forward.