Colo. Obamacare launch on track with Mass. Romneycare launch

Obamacare in Colorado is outpacing Romneycare in Massachusetts when you compare 2013 early enrollment numbers here to 2007 early enrollment numbers there.

The latest figures from Colorado’s health insurance marketplace show 3,408 Coloradans are now covered through the marketplace, while another 52,542 have signed up for accounts. In the first month Massachusetts opened its pioneering insurance exchange, informally known as Romneycare, only 123 people enrolled. Romneycare served as the blueprint for Obamacare.

Ben Davis, a media representative for the Colorado Exchange called Connect for Health, said the two most important metrics when looking at Colorado’s exchange is traffic to the site and the accounts created. Connect for Health said the average daily number of visitors to the website has been 11,753 — or more than 350,000 in the first month.

“That is a substantial audience,” Davis said.

[pullquote] You can window shop on the Colorado site. It works comparatively well. And users can expect only increased efficiency with each passing day.[/pullquote]

Many of the unique visitors are taking advantage of the anonymous shopping option available to Colorado consumers. Most other states, including every state running the federal marketplace, require consumers to create an account before they can shop for insurance. That decision has been controversial. Some fault the last-minute decision to take away the window-shopping option as one of the primary reasons the federal site has experienced traffic tangles and infuriating slowdowns.

“The accounts created [in Colorado]… those are folks who are essentially saying ‘We are going to purchase through the exchange, we just haven’t decided what we’re doing yet,’” Davis said.

If that’s the case, Colorado already has more people set up to be covered than Massachusetts had signed up at the end of its first year: 36,000 enrollees bought Romneycare in 2007, 20 percent of whom did so in the month before the individual penalty kicked in. Colorado looks to be in good position to achieve its stated goal of enrolling 75,000 people by the end of 2014, if population numbers are any measure. Massachusetts was home to nearly 6.5 million residents in 2007. Colorado is now home to 5.1 million.

Other key factors provide some advantage to Colorado in the comparison. When Romenycare first became law, Bay Staters had 10 months to sign up for insurance before mandate fines kicked, so they were less pressed initially to sign up, and because the rate of uninsured there was 9.6 percent, less people turned to the exchange. Obamacare, by contrast, allows only 6 months to sign up and Colorado has an estimated 14.3 percent uninsured rate.*

The online system in Colorado works much better than does the glitchy struggling federal marketplace, and Coloradans should expect only increased efficiency on the state site with each passing day, according to people who use it every day.

“I am optimistic, and I can’t help but be optimistic,” said Julia Hutchins, CEO at Colorado Health Insurance Cooperative. Colorado Healthop offers 14 plans on Connect for Health Colorado. The co-op plans include benefits not readily available from other insurers.

The Healthop plans are predicated on preventative “health actions” that reward members for going to doctors. Hutchins says the co-op model, which fosters a community of consumers, is in a unique position to wring services out of the health care system for its members. It is the only state-wide health co-op in Colorado.

“With any new program, or new marketplace, in this case, it takes time for people to understand how to use it,” Hutchins said. “There are so many stories about the rollout that say they have not done as well as people have expected, but [Connect for Health] has just preformed this huge lift.”

According to Hutchins, between 3,000 and 4,000 people are creating new accounts on the Connect for Health site daily. Colorado Healthop set a three-year business goal to enroll 25,000 people, so every new account is a potential future member. Hutchins said Connect for Health has been very good at communicating and keeping the insurers in the loop about the progress of the marketplace.

“This has been a massive undertaking, and really, I hope at some point someone can step back and reflect on how huge it’s been — maybe when we’re at the point Massachusetts was 11 months from now. I have no doubt we’ll be there.”

* Thanks to reader @Janus303 for pointing to these key factors/figures.