U.S. signs off on R.I. healthcare marketplace

The federally-mandated exchange will serve as a comparison tool for health insurance options

Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2013


Rhode Island’s Health Benefits Exchange — the health care marketplace mandated by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — received federal approval Dec. 20, placing it on track to meet the law’s October deadline for being available to the public. “The exchange will be a tool for Rhode Islanders, small businesses and their employees to easily compare health insurance options, learn if they qualify for discounts and eventually sign up for other programs,” according to a website set up by the office of Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P ’14.

Though President Obama’s 2010 health care law required the exchange be set up, its implementation was delayed until the Supreme Court upheld the law’s constitutionality in June 2012. Under the new legislation, every state must either develop its own health care exchange or join a federal exchange.

“Rhode Island has been (at the) cutting edge when it comes to the Health Exchange,” said Christine Hunsinger, Chafee’s press secretary.

“Federal funds are supporting the planning, establishment and initial operations of the exchange,” according to his website. An article in Monday’s Boston Globe noted that Rhode Island “has received $74 million in federal exchange funding.” The state awarded a three-year, $105 million contract to Deloitte Consulting to build the exchange and update other aspects of its health care system.

Rhode Island is one of 18 states to build its own health care exchange instead of joining the federal government’s.

“This governor believes that Rhode Island should determine its own destiny,” Hunsinger said. Chafee “believes that he understands his own population better than the federal government does,” she added. But before the health care markets are fully developed, “there is no way to determine the difference between the federal exchange and the Rhode Island Exchange,” Hunsinger said.

After operating for one year with federal support, “the exchange must find a way to raise its own money for staff, supplies and rent,” according to Chafee’s website. The transition to self-sufficiency will present a formidable challenge for the exchange, according to a study by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council. “The long-term sustainability of (the exchange) depends on a number of factors, including how many individuals access insurance through the exchange,” according to the study. The number of people who will use the exchange is “the big unknown right now,” said Ashley Denault, RIPEC’s director of research. But Chafee is confident that the exchange will support itself, and “the early projections say that’s doable and achievable,” Hunsinger said.

Denault said “there are so many questions right now” that it is difficult to predict the costs and revenues.

The exchange will be accessible via phone, in person or online, but Denault said  people who are not familiar with health information and technology may be discouraged from utilizing its services. An important factor in the exchange’s success will be whether it is “easily understandable for people at varying levels of health literacy,” she said.

Though she understands this concern, Hunsinger said she is confident the exchange will accomplish its goal and “bring in as many people as possible.”

Residents can expect that by October, “the exchange for Rhode Island will be up and running (and) will meet all the federal guidelines,” Hunsinger said.


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