HARTFORD – With the first phase of enrollment for health insurance coverage via Access Health CT officially ended, administrators of the state’s new health insurance marketplace are touting the number of individuals it has signed up.

 

However, it is not known at this time how many of those enrollees are workers and others who previously were without health insurance.

 

“Unfortunately, the application asked the question but it’s not a mandatory question. It’s difficult to ascertain” at this time, explains Kathleen Tallarita, government affairs, public relations and outreach manager at Access Health CT.

 

“I think we’re reaching a good portion of the uninsured population,” Tallarita adds. “Our goal is to get those who are uninsured insured. We do believe we are hitting that population.”

 

There remain a substantial number of state residents without health insurance, according to state estimates. Many put the number of uninsured in the state at about 340,000 before October 1, 2013, when enrollment began. Tallarita says she believes that figure was somewhat high, and points to professionally derived estimates that now put the number of Connecticut uninsured prior to October 1 within the 286,000-to-318,000 range.

 

The primary goal of the Affordable Care Act, which mandates state insurance marketplaces such as Access Health CT, was to make sure uninsured U.S. citizens could obtain insurance coverage. December 23 was the deadline to sign up in order to receive health insurance beginning January 1, 2014.

 

According to Access Health CT, 62,153 made that deadline in Connecticut. However, that figure is only 21.7 percent (if the low end of Tallarita’s figures is used) of the total number of estimated uninsured residents in the state before enrollment.

 

Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan acknowledged as much in a statement released December 24, the day after the initial deadline.

 

 “We’re delighted to have enrolled so many Connecticut residents in health care coverage for January 1st; however, our work is far from done,” Counihan said. “Over the remaining three months of open enrollment, we will continue aggressive outreach to enroll even more consumers and small businesses in quality, affordable health care coverage.”

 

In addition to the unemployed, ACA was intended to bridge the gap in health-care coverage for a worker whose employer does not provide health insurance.

 

Consumers who have not yet signed up for health insurance still have until March 31 the deadline for the open enrollment period.

 

While the numbers seem daunting, the first enrollment period established a precedent for the unexpected. At the close of business on December 4 only 23,440 had enrolled for health coverage through Access Health CT. A little over two weeks later, that number had almost tripled, according to Tallarita.

 

“I think we were pretty pleased to see it get that high [especially] when you think of the holidays and people procrastinating,” Tallarita says. She adds that she believes the state is “trending towards” meeting its 100,000-enrollee marker.

 

 “We had set a goal of reaching 100,000 by March 31,” she says. Enrollment should be viewed as a series of goals achieved over time, and outreach will be ongoing, she says.

 

“This is not a one-year implementation, but a three-year implementation,” she says, adding, “We’re not backing down from any of our marketing tools. We’re going around to communities three, four, five times a week having enrollment fairs and working with [community leaders and institutions].”

 

As of January 6, 55 percent of enrollees had signed up for the “Silver” level of coverage, 26 percent for “Gold,” 17 percent for “Bronze” and two percent for “Catastrophic.”

 

 Employees who commute to and from work via CTTransit bus service have been hit with a fare increase. Single-ride fares for the general public rose 20 cents, to $1.50. However, the state’s Commuter Tax Benefit program could help pay for that needed transportation. The program aids implementation of the federal law that lets employees who spend at least $100 monthly on commuting put aside pre-tax dollars to pay for it. The state’s Department of Transportation estimates that more than $400 in federal and state taxes could be saved by joining the program. The department suggests that workers contact their human resources department to learn more about the program.

 BOSTON — New England ranked highest among nine geographic regions in total private-industry compensation costs in September 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The $34.48 hourly top rate is almost $10 greater than the East South Central region’s low of $24.89 per hour. That and other information about employer costs for wages, salaries and employee benefits are included in a report released by BLS’ New England Information Office. Total compensation outlays for New England included 70.1 percent ($24.16) for wages and salaries and 29.9 percent ($10.32) for benefits. The breakdown for benefits in New England included legally mandated benefits (such as Social Security and Medicare) of $2.80 per hour; insurance (including life, health, and short- and long-term disability) $2.77 per hour worked; paid leave time (including sick, personal, vacation and holiday) $2.51 per hour; and $1.31 per hour for retirement/savings. Total compensation costs among private industry employers throughout the U.S. as a whole averaged $29.23.

 Looking for a new job? If you’re fortunate enough to have gotten to the point where you’re going in for an interview, Careerbuilder.com has some tips for avoiding common pitfalls. The top way to make sure you don’t get the job you’re seeking is to appear uninterested in your potential employer, according to the job-search site. Among other turn-offs for potential employers are dressing inappropriately, failure to provide specific examples regarding experience and achievements, poor posture and answering a cellphone or texting during the interview. Careerbuilder.com surveyed more than 2,000 hiring managers and HR professionals in a variety of company types and sizes throughout the nation. One of the survey items, according to a story titled “What Not To Do in the Interview” by Careerbuilder.com writer Susan Ricker, was a request to share “the most outrageous mistakes candidates made during a job interview.” Answers included the following applicant blunders: answering a phone call for an interview with a competitor; acting out a Star Trek role; attempting to secretly record the interview; checking Facebook during the interview; arriving in a jogging suit because the applicant was going running after the interview; a male applicant saying that he questioned his daughter’s paternity; popping out one’s teeth when discussing dental benefits; and setting fire to the interviewer’s newspaper while reading it when the interviewer said “Impress me.”

 WETHERSFIELD — Nonfarm employment in Connecticut fell in December, leaving Connecticut with 3,900 fewer jobs than in the previous month. The 0.2-percent decline effectively reversed a 0.2-percent job gain in November, according to the Department of Labor’s Office of Research. Andy Condon, director of the office, sites winter weather conditions as a primary cause. “Connecticut’s payroll job counts appear to have been affected by bad winter weather around the time of the survey reference,” Condon stated. “On a brighter note,” he added, “the state’s unemployment rate continues to fall, and for better reasons than has sometimes been the case in the recent past. Declines in the number of unemployed residents largely were the result of employment rather than individuals leaving the labor force.”

The state’s unemployment rate for December was 7.4 percent. Regarding job losses, the Professional and Business Services sector was hit hardest, with a 2,600-job decline. The Trade, Transportation & Public Utilities sector lost 1,300 positions. Only two sectors saw job increases in December. The Financial Activities sector added 300 positions, and the sector categorized as Other Services grew by 900 jobs.

 WASHINGTON, D.C. — Minimum-wage service workers employed by the federal government will see an increase in their paychecks when a new presidential directive takes effect. President Barack Obama has announced he will, via executive order, raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour for construction workers, custodians, dishwashers and others working under a federal contract for services.

 Malloy proposal would raise wage floor to $10.10 by 2017

 

HARTFORD — Just months after raising the state’s minimum wage to $9 over two years, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is once again looking to increase the required hourly pay rate, this time to $10.10 by the year 2017.

Like the minimum wage that took effect this year, this latest proposal, SB 32, would be  incremental. It changes last year’s law by establishing a $9.15 per hour minimum wage beginning January 1, 2015, raising it to $9.60 the following year, and to $10.10 on January 1, 2017.

“There is a debate happening across our country on how to tackle the growing income inequality that is detrimental to our middle-class families and to our economy,” said Malloy in a statement. “Part of tackling that critically important challenge is making sure that we recognize that a good and decent wage is good for workers and good for business.

“For too long, the minimum wage has not kept up with the cost of living,” Malloy added. “As studies have shown, the workers who would benefit from a minimum-wage increase brought home 46 percent of their household’s total wage and salary income in 2011. When workers earn more money, businesses will have more customers. This modest boost will help those earning the least to make ends meet.”

Last year’s law raised the minimum wage to $8.70 (from the previous $8.25) at the beginning this year, and increases it again to $9 per hour at the start of 2015.

According to the governor’s release, about 80,000 of Connecticut’s 1.7 million-person workforce earn the minimum wage.

Malloy’s increased-wage initiative will be among legislation proposed during the General Assembly’s current  session.

The federal poverty guideline states that $23,850 for a four-member family. Malloy’s proposal would earn an employee working 40 hours a week about $21,008, according to the release.

 Business groups portray regard Malloy’s proposal as toxic.

According to a government affairs report from the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA), the state’s largest business group: “Employers fought last year’s proposals largely on the basis that Connecticut’s economy still hasn’t rebounded from the recession. Studies have shown that increases to the minimum wage do a lot more to deprive work opportunities than provide for lower-skilled workers ands younger people.

“And to make up for higher labor costs, employers often are forced to do things nobody wants, especially in this economy: cut back on employee hours and benefits, limit opportunities to provide their employees training, and raise prices on goods and services,” added the CBIA report.