Metro

State insurance exchange reopens for enrollment

HealthSource RI director says health plan costs have fallen due to greater competition, transparency

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, November 20, 2014

HealthSource RI, the state health insurance exchange, opened its second enrollment period Nov. 15 to allow individuals and families not insured by their employers to renew their coverage. 

The enrollment period will last until Feb. 15, 2015 and includes options from United HealthCare, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island and Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, said Christine Ferguson, director of the exchange, adding that some plans are 14 percent less expensive than they were during last year’s enrollment period.

Since United was added as an insurance provider on HealthSource RI, the increased competition and transparency has allowed individuals and families buying insurance on the exchange to manage their expenses more effectively, Ferguson said.

After its opening, the exchange has received the number of enrollees anticipated by officials. But the sum of walk-in appointments and customer service phone calls exceeded expectations, which led to some bottlenecking during the enrollment period.

But uncertainty about the exchange’s future has kept some small businesses from using it, Ferguson said.

When it was signed into law in 2010, the Affordable Care Act required states to either set up their own health insurance exchanges or buy into the federal exchange. But funding from the federal government, which has financed the entire implementation of HealthSource RI, will run out in December 2015.

As a result, Rhode Island in the future can either finance the exchange itself or buy into the federal health insurance exchange, HealthCare.gov, which notoriously encountered many technical flaws during its first enrollment period. The federal exchange opened again this month with fewer glitches. In May, HealthSource RI ranked second in the country for its enrollment rates and is considered one of the most successful state health insurance exchanges. Currently, 13 states and the District of Columbia run their own exchanges.

The governor’s office currently has decision-making power over HealthSource RI. Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 decided to leave the decision of whether or not to fund the exchange for the next governor.

Regardless of whether the exchange gets turned over to the federal government, individuals insured by plans sold on HealthSource RI will continue to receive coverage until the end of the year. At that point, they can buy insurance directly from carriers, Ferguson said.

The exchange was a divisive issue among gubernatorial candidates, and Gov.-elect Gina Raimondo said while on the campaign trail that she would keep the exchange but reduce its budget, The Herald previously reported. HealthSource RI is estimated to cost between $17 million and $23 million annually.

“HealthSource RI has been a great success,” said Joy Fox, director of the transition for Gina Raimondo. “We want to keep this program but want to ensure that we find a way to pay for it that is affordable for everyone.”

Ferguson said she has not met with anyone from Raimondo’s campaign or transition team about funding for the exchange.

“In the coming weeks, (Raimondo) and her team will have the opportunity to discuss the exchange and its role in providing affordable health care for Rhode Islanders,” Fox said.

Ferguson said she has not “walked through the ramifications” of the state buying into the federal exchange because she does not think it will happen. She said she thinks the exchange will stay in the state and that she will be able to negotiate the budget necessary to maintain the quality of the exchange.