Connecticut’s health insurance “exchange,” the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” opened for business on Oct. 1. The goal? To extend  health insurance coverage to nearly 350,000 uninsured Connecticut residents and give them a marketplace in which to “comparison shop” for different policies.  Since 2011, our state has been laying the foundation for Connecticut’s own health insurance “exchange,” called Access Health CT.

What is Access Health CT and how can it help me?

Access Health CT is our state’s new health insurance marketplace and is the best source of information for the public. It’s a quasi-public agency whose mission is to increase the number of Connecticut residents who are insured, lower their costs, promote health and eliminate health disparities. Access Health CT is run by a 14-member board, chaired by Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, funded by grants, and, after January 2015, will operate at no cost to the state or its taxpayers. Four insurance companies will offer individual policies on the exchange: Anthem, UnitedHealthcare, Connecticare, and Healthy CT. Three of these will offer small-business policies on the Small Business Health Options (SHOP) Exchange: Anthem, UnitedHealthcare, and Healthy CT. You cannot be turned down for health insurance due to pre-existing health conditions.

The CEO of Access Health CT, Kevin Counihan, says that Connecticut’s program will help residents in several ways:

• by seeing whether you qualify for Medicaid or another Connecticut health program,

• by saving on premiums — through subsidies — if your income is up to 400% of the poverty level,

• by offering transparency in comparing the cost/benefits of different companies’ policies,

• by assuring your acceptance even with a pre-existing condition.

Residents were able to make inquiries about plans and subsidies beginning Oct. 1. Health insurance coverage will begin Jan. 1, 2014, if qualified residents enroll in a plan before Dec. 15, 2013.

 If I don’t have insurance and decide not to sign up for a policy, will I pay a penalty?

Yes, unless you’re part of a group allowed to opt out under federal law. For 2014, fines will be $95 per adult and $47.50 per child or 1% of family income, whichever is higher. Fines will increase in subsequent years.

Can I get help in choosing a plan? 

Yes. The federal Affordable Care Act requires that states provide outreach and personal assistance to uninsured clients. In Connecticut, there are six “Navigator” agencies and Navigator-certified insurance brokers to help consumers make decisions about a plan. In early September, Access Health CT launched its information line at 1-855-805-HEALTH (4325), so you can get enrollment help over the phone from an in-person assister or referral to a broker.

Where can I learn more?

Access Health CT website is accesshealthct.com, which is translated into 71 languages.

This is a series of columns in which the Wilton League of Women Voters discusses commonly asked questions about Wilton’s town meeting form of government. The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation in government. For more information, visit our website wiltonlwv.org or write to P.O. Box 71, Wilton, CT 06897.