R.I. exceeds health insurance sign-up target

Well-designed website contributed to success of HealthSource R.I., state’s health insurance market

Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Rhode Island enrolled roughly 20,000 individuals through its state insurance exchange, HealthSource R.I., as of midday Monday, the Providence Journal reported.

Monday was the final day of the open enrollment period in Rhode Island, which did not extend its deadline as the federal government has done.

Rhode Island has seen significant success in its health care exchange relative to other states: As of a March 11 New York Times article, the state was ranked second in the nation for its rate of health insurance enrollments. The high number of sign-ups in Rhode Island can be attributed to the technology behind HealthSource R.I., which was not plagued with the glitches seen in other states and at the federal level.

HealthSource R.I. has been continually operating since it opened Oct. 1, with only minor glitches, said Dara Chadwick, chief of strategic communications and media relations at HealthSource R.I.

Rhode Island stands out as one of the 13 states that have already exceeded the federal enrollment benchmark.

Even states with small populations like Rhode Island have been challenged in setting up a user-friendly system for having people select plans, said Ira Wilson, professor and chair of the Department of Health Services, Policy and Practice.

Rhode Island had to balance the aesthetics and logistics of designing a website attempting to present easily accessible information and sustain a high volume of Internet traffic, which were causes of complaints with the federal government’s website, Wilson added.

The website could be anonymously accessed and did not require an application to view plan options, which may have contributed to higher-than-average enrollment rates, said Angela Sherwin ’07 MPH’09, director of the Executive Master of Healthcare Leadership program.

Community outreach also contributed to the high number of sign-ups. “From the beginning they had some interesting campaigns, like visiting all 39 cities and towns (in Rhode Island) in the course of three months leading up to open enrollment,” Sherwin said.

Wilson attributed Rhode Island’s success to Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts and Christopher Koller, the former health insurance commissioner. “The reason they did well is they made some smart decisions, had enough money and had good political alignment,” he added.

Rhode Island chose to expand its Medicaid program to include low-income adults who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. With Medicaid enrollment occurring at a faster pace than predicted by Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s ’75 P’14 P’17 administration, many people are questioning if it will cost the state more than anticipated to maintain the insurance exchange and to cover enrollees, Wilson said.

“The majority of costs for the new Medicaid eligibles are reimbursed with 100 percent federal funding,” wrote Elena Nicolella, director of Medicaid for the Office of Health and Human Services, in an email to The Herald. “States will begin to contribute to costs in 2017. The receipt of 100 percent in federal funds for the first three years will allow us to better understand this population and their health care needs.”

Now that the enrollment deadline has passed, HealthSource R.I. will focus largely on providing coverage for small businesses as well as improving the state system before the next window of enrollment opens in November, Chadwick said.

“It’s something new so there’s definitely a learning curve, and it’s complex,” Chadwick said. “There’s some education that needs to be done to get people comfortable with the choices they need to make and be educated enough to make that choice.”


One Comment

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