- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut officials said the state’s health insurance marketplace experienced a surge in last-minute enrollees and was on track to sign up about 200,000 people in health plans by Monday’s enrollment deadline, double the original goal of 100,000.

As of Sunday night, 191,961 people had signed up for coverage, with 74,000 in private health plans and the rest in government-funded Medicaid plans, said Access Health CT’s CEO Kevin Counihan.

He said the exchange had been “swamped” on Monday, prompting the predictions of possibly 200,000 total enrollees since open enrollment began in October. It’s unclear how many of those people were previously uninsured. An analysis is expected this summer.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy acknowledged the large enrollment numbers in Connecticut came somewhat as a surprise.

“I don’t think any of us thought, in our wildest dreams, we would be as successful as we are about to be,” he said.

Given the state’s apparent success, Malloy said that Connecticut is ready to partner with other states interested in using Access Health CT’s technology.

About 100 people were packed inside Access Health CT’s New Britain store on Monday afternoon waiting for enrollment help. Christopher Colon, 52, of New Britain, admitted he should have signed up sooner, saying he thought about it every time he visited his bank across the street but put it off, thinking Congress might delay the deadline.

“I procrastinated. I waited too long,” said the 53-year-old machinist. “It’s just like Christmas. Everybody is procrastinating when it comes to shopping. This time it’s insurance.”

Colon was given ticket No. 83 and told he might have to wait three hours to meet with an enrollment worker. But he took the long wait in stride as he sat with a line of people on a bench.

“It’s just something that you basically need,” he said of health insurance, adding that he hasn’t had coverage for two decades and was lucky “to be one of those people who don’t get sick.”

Staff at the New Britain storefront estimated they had enrolled at least 200 people by late afternoon. They planned to stay until all customers were served.

Robert Strucks, of Newington, said it took him four hours to finally get enrolled. A seasonal employee with a lawn care business, Strucks said he tried to sign up for coverage online but the website was too slow due to the extraordinary demand and he decided to drive to the exchange’s New Britain store.

Counihan said Access Health CT’s website traffic was extraordinary on Monday. During the first deadline for coverage, Dec. 23, 2013, there was an average of 833 people visiting the website at a time. On Monday at the Access Health CT’s headquarters, a computer screen that tracked the web traffic often reached 1,300 visitors or more.

Additionally, Access Health CT was impacted by the federal health insurance website shutting down Monday for several hours. Counihan said that affected the ability of staff to verify enrollee’s eligibility for tax credits.

“These are explanations. They aren’t meant to be excuses,” Counihan said. “It’s just a lot more volume than we expected. But you know what? We’re going to work it through. Our job is to get people insured and get them covered and we’re going to get it done.”

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