Ferguson speaks to House; HealthSource marketing director departs
HEALTHSOURCE RI DIRECTOR Christine Ferguson responds to questions during the September Providence Business News Summit on the Health Benefits Exchange. To her left are R.I. Health Insurance Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Hittner and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island President and CEO Peter Peter Andruszkiewicz. On Thursday she addressed the R.I. House of Representatives on the progress that the health benefits exchange had made.
PBN FILE PHOTO/MIKW SKORSKI
By Harold Ambler Contributing Writer
PROVIDENCE – HealthSource RI Executive Director Christine Ferguson delivered a message to members of the R.I. House of Representatives Thursday afternoon: The state’s exchange is a national success story, even as challenges remain for her agency in implementing the Affordable Care Act.
“This has been a very exciting time,” Ferguson said, “probably the most exciting time for health care in the past 40 or 50 years.”
Ferguson did not provide any new data to House members on sign-ups through the state’s health benefits exchange. New numbers come not from HealthSource RI, but from the Executive Office of Health & Human Services’s David Burnett, chief of government & public affairs. Burnett confirmed to Providence Business News Friday that the number of new Medicaid enrollees through HealthSource RI stood, as of Wednesday, at 19,941.
Dara Chadwick, Ferguson’s chief of strategic communications and media relations, has not furnished more detailed data on those who have had interactions with the site.
Questions that remain include: What percent of enrollees are finding that insurers are not aware of them after they have signed up for insurance through the site? What percent of enrollees’ information has been inaccurately carried to insurers? What percent of enrollees’ have had identification problems using the site, of the kind that plagued HealthCare.gov?
Other questions, less technical in nature, remained as well. How many of the people listed as having bought private health plans were previously uninsured? How many of those listed as having been enrolled into Medicaid through HealthSource RI were not previously on Medicaid?
Ferguson and Chadwick indicated that a new release of data next week would provide the greatest amount of information and metrics to the public to date.
House members asked Ferguson questions at the end of her remarks. Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy, D-Hopkinton, and chair of the House Corporations Committee, asked how HealthSource RI would be financed moving forward. “Eventually, it will have to be self-supporting,” Kennedy said. “How are we going to do that?”
“That’s a great setup for some of the policy questions that have to be decided in the next few months,” Ferguson said. “People have used this number $26 million, but it’s not what we expect to need, we expect to need less. We have been in consultation with the White House, because so many things didn’t go off so well with the national launch, and that influenced how things unrolled for us. We have talked about the possibility of federal funds being available for part of the fiscal year 2015 budget. There are a lot of possibilities that states have discussed.”
Ferguson said that she had been warned privately that setting up HealthSource RI in such a short time span was not feasible. “[Friends] told me to run away,” she said. “At the federal level, their warnings were borne out, but here our exchange has gone exceptionally well. We have been recognized as one of the best exchanges in the country. That has given people a lot of hope and optimism that we can do something really different.”