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Now, as the new health care law was rolling out, we heard a lot about the troubles with the healthcare.gov website. A handful of states also set up their own online health insurance marketplaces with varying degrees of success. Connecticut, for its part, is happy with the results. They actually think other states might learn from their experience.
Jeff Cohen from WNPR in Hartford reports.
JEFF COHEN, BYLINE: Kevin Counihan is walking through the 15th floor of this downtown Hartford office building, past the legal department, the IT folks and the consultants. He stops in front of three wall-mounted computer screens.
KEVIN COUNIHAN: You're looking at the number of concurrent users on the site. So you can see that there are 212 people in the process of applying for insurance on the site.
COHEN: The site is AccessHealthCT.com. It's Connecticut's portal for its state-run exchange under Obamacare, and Counihan is the CEO.
COUNIHAN: Now, this screen gives, in real time, our enrollment and call center metrics.
COHEN: And he says those monitors, metrics and technology are all just a part of what his agency is doing well. Connecticut is widely seen as one of those states that's succeeding with Obamacare. For one, its website works. More importantly, it's already exceeded its first-year enrollment goals, and other states have noticed.
COUNIHAN: We were approached by several states who said: Would you have any interest in franchising your exchange, your IT platform, your key functionality to us, as a state? As we thought about that, we began coming up with this concept of an exchange in a box.
COHEN: Think of it as Obamacare a la carte. Need a better executive team? Let Counihan's people run your show, for a fee. Need help managing your vendors? They can do that, too. His technology infrastructure is scalable, he says, which is computer-speak for don't rebuild your own website. Let us do it. And you can have your own state-specific look and feel, too. Sales, marketing, legal: Why do it yourself when Connecticut can do it for you?
COUNIHAN: My only point to some of these other states is: Why recreate a wheel somebody else already built?
COHEN: The question is: Can it work? Consultant Rosemarie Day of Day Health Strategies worked with Counihan years ago, when Massachusetts built its own health insurance system. She says the idea of an exchange in a box is intriguing, but it's got to be nuanced, too.
ROSEMARIE DAY: You can't just cut and paste, if it works in Connecticut, boom. You know, doing that kind of organ transplant and reconnecting everything, you know, can take longer.
COHEN: She says if it were only about technology, it could work, but there are other things to consider, like complicated insurance markets in different states and politics.
DAY: States that have embraced having their exchange, you've got a fair amount of buy-in from their governor's office, and the governor is wanting to put, you know, their own stamp on what they're doing for their constituents.
COHEN: Which is to say ego plays a role, too. And Day says a lot of exchanges that seem like they're succeeding still need help behind the scenes.
DAY: They may not be publicizing all of this, but they're trying to make sure that they get a little bit out of that fingers-in-the-dike mode.
COHEN: NPR reached out to several states that have struggled to implement Obamacare. None confirmed contact with Connecticut. But Oregon said it's looking at technology alternatives, should its vendor not deliver by the end of March. And Maryland officials said earlier this month that they're actively investigating their options. Just this week, the state fired its healthcare IT contractor and picked a new one. But not everything is perfect in Connecticut. The state's Spanish-language enrollment website just went live, with barely a month to go before open enrollment ends. Still, people who work for Counihan say Connecticut has a lot to offer, like Jim Wadleigh, the Connecticut exchange's chief information officer. He's back at their Hartford office.
JIM WADLEIGH: The second name of this city is the insurance capital of the world. As you look at our entire leadership team, we come from the Cignas, the Aetnas, the Uniteds, the Health Nets. That is what's probably helped us be so successful.
COHEN: They also understand timing. Counihan says states that are interested in help getting ready for the next open enrollment in November have a few weeks to decide how to proceed. But the clock, he says, is ticking. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Cohen, in Hartford.
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GREENE: Jeff's story comes to us as part of a partnership among NPR, WNPR and Kaiser Health News.
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