In its simplest form, the new R.I. Health Benefits Exchange is a sea change in business models for commercial health insurance, moving from business-to-business to business-to-consumer, according to Peter Andruszkiewicz, president and CEO of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island.
For the first time, individual Rhode Islanders – and employees of small businesses with fewer than 50 workers – will have the opportunity to research, compare, shop and buy their health insurance, choosing between 28 different commercial health-insurance plans offered on the exchange beginning Oct. 1, when open enrollment starts.
The biggest change will be for the small businesses that can participate in the exchange. They begin by deciding on a minimum benefit contribution for employees, paying that on a monthly basis to the exchange, and then sending the workers to shop for their health plans, according to Christine Ferguson, executive director of the Health Benefits Exchange.
These businesses no longer will have to manage the difficult human resources function of choosing the best health plan for a diverse workforce.
Businesses and consumers, however, will not be set adrift in the process, to fend for themselves, according to Ferguson. A robust customer assistance framework is being built, including a call center, personal navigators and insurance brokers, who will be compensated.
For many Rhode Island consumers, business owners small and large, and even legislators, the shift to a consumer-choice business model is not well-understood. Specific details about benefits and rates will not be made fully available until after July 15, when the new health plans and rates will be officially certified as meeting federal requirements.
“Change is hard, it’s very hard,” outgoing R.I. Health Insurance Commissioner Christopher F. Koller said to members of the R.I. Healthcare Reform Commission at its meeting on June 27.