BUSINESS SCENE: Health Exchange on track to meeting goal?

January 21, 2014

By SCOTT WHIPPLE | Article as it appeared in the New Britain Herald

Once there was a big league baseball team called the Washington Senators. I know because, in West Hartford, I was one of their two fans. The other was my high school buddy. Our favorite movie? You had to ask? “Damn Yankees.”

Supporting a team like the Senators is akin to taking masochistic pleasure in reading, for example, that your state is 49th in fiscal condition.

According to a study sponsored by George Mason University, in 2012, the only state in worse financial shape was New Jersey. Among those ranked higher were Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. Got your bags packed? I didn’t think so.

Why such a crummy ranking for Connecticut? As Sarah Arnett, author of the study explains, “States with the worst fiscal condition have had years of poor financial management.”

With this in mind, it somehow follows, that the nutmeg version of Obamacare should be a disaster. Why not? We’re Connecticut!

Yet, last week during a conference call, Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan made other states sound like sorry also-rans. Counihan insisted Connecticut’s health exchange was on track to meet its goal –signing up 100,000 customers for health insurance by March 31. The number of sign-ups, he said, has exceeded 86,000 — evenly divided between people in private health insurance plans and those eligible for Medicaid.

Counihan said the exchange is healthy and may add three new insurance carriers, doubling its current options If there was any tremor in his voice, it sounded when he talked about young people.

“We have developed an alliance with Clear Channel, NBC, Live Nation and Telemundo, for a series of concerts and online solicitations,” Counihan reported. “We’ll use social media to get at young Hispanic males.”

Young Hispanic males?

“They represent the highest percentage of uninsured. So, it’s important we work with community outreach workers to address this issue.”

Hmm. To offset the cost of coverage for an expensive older generation, Obamaare in its various forms is depending on recent college graduates, many saddled with major loans, to pay for costly seniors. Counihan seemed to sense skepticism among listeners when he hastily explained that reinsurance — funds from the feds — “ameliorates much of the selection risk.” So, don’t sweat that we’ve only signed 29 percent under age 35.

“I think focus on age can be a red herring,” he added.

Enter state Sen. Kevin Kelly. Picture Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib stalking Broncos receiver Julius Thomas. Kelly, ranking member of the General Assembly’s Insurance Committee, has been shadowing Counihan since November when Kelly charged that he failed to mention the exchange’s website problems.

“In any health insurance system, success is dependent on having a balanced age mix,” Kelly told Business Scene. “Access Health CT officials admitted that they never calculated the percentage of younger, healthier individuals needed to join the exchange to ensure the system would be successful.”

Kelly said he was disappointed that Counihan continued to brush past this topic.

“It’s not a red herring,” Kelly maintained. “Rather, it’s the key to assessing whether Access Health CT will be sustainable; it’s a number we can’t ignore.”

An image crossed my mind. It was of a lone Washington Senators fan standing outside venerable Griffith Stadium. It was April and the Nats were strangely in first place. The fan smiled hopefully as he held up a homemade poster celebrating the Senators’ then-second baseman.

“We’ll go far with Al Kozar,” the sign read.

For this fan, first place was no red herring.