State insurance enrollment up

Health exchange is set to surpass worst-case scenario after its debut

This print advertisement was part of the campaign to promote Colorado’s health insurance marketplace, part of the nation’s health-care overhaul. Enlargephoto

Courtesy of Connect for Health Colorado

This print advertisement was part of the campaign to promote Colorado’s health insurance marketplace, part of the nation’s health-care overhaul.

DENVER – Colorado’s health-insurance exchange recovered from a troubled launch and exceeded its worst-case scenario for enrollment Monday for the first time since its Oct. 1 debut.

Monday was the deadline for people to buy insurance through Connect for Health Colorado in order to have their policies take effect Jan. 1. But when more than 5,000 people bought policies, officials extended the deadline through Christmas Eve.

As of Monday, 42,771 people had enrolled for private insurance through Connect for Health Colorado. That exceeds Connect for Health’s most conservative enrollment projection of about 37,000.

The exchange got off to a sluggish start, with just 305 enrollments the first week. Like the national healthcare.gov website, connectforhealthco.com was plagued by bugs that made it impossible for many willing customers to enroll in its first days online.

But numbers began to recover as technical glitches were fixed.

“Monday was our busiest shopping day as thousands of Coloradans came to our website to sign up by the deadline for January 1, 2014 coverage,” said Patty Fontneau, CEO of Connect for Health Colorado, in a news release.

Coloradans who missed Monday’s deadline have until Jan. 15 to sign up for coverage that would begin Feb. 1, Fontneau said. Open enrollment in policies sold on the exchange continues through March.

In November, some state exchange’s directors worried that delays in fixing the site would cause a surge of enrollments in December and lead to crashes.

But enrollment numbers continued to get better the last few weeks. More than 12,000 people signed up since Dec. 14.

However, the exchange has had trouble enrolling younger, healthier people, with only 6 percent of enrollees between age 18 and 25 as of Dec. 14, while 28 percent were between age 55 and 64.

The numbers as of a week ago showed 461 people in La Plata County, 161 in Montezuma and 121 in Archuleta had signed up for private insurance through Connect for Health Colorado.

People who don’t have insurance next year will have to pay a $95 fine with their taxes. But many people will qualify for either subsidized private coverage or for government-provided coverage through Medicaid.

So far, Medicaid has proved to be a far more popular option for Coloradans, with 114,192 enrollments through Dec. 14. In October, there were more than 10 Medicaid enrollments for every one paying customer who bought a private policy on the exchange. But the exchange narrowed the gap somewhat as the December deadline approached.

More than 700,000 Coloradans don’t have health insurance.

The online exchange is a crucial component of the federal Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” Unlike most states, Colorado set up its own online marketplace – with support from both Democrats and business-oriented Republicans – rather than letting the federal government run the website.

The federal website also has experienced high-profile problems. On Monday, The Associated Press reported that the federal exchange quietly extended Monday’s deadline to midnight Christmas Eve. Colorado’s deadline remained Monday.

President Barack Obama signed up for his own policy Monday through the District of Columbia’s health insurance website.

joeh@cortezjournal.com