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By Harold Ambler
By Harold Ambler
(Updated, 9:13 p.m.)
PROVIDENCE – HealthSource RI has received a $6.1 million grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to assist with its small-business efforts.
The grant was revealed during an interview with Director Christine Ferguson at the Statehouse.
Ferguson indicated that enrolling in the Small Business Health Options marketplace has proved to be, to some extent, frustrating and that changing that was the reason HealthSource applied for a competitive CMS small business grant. She said that even brokers versed in the health care and health insurance system were running into difficulties.
“There are pieces of the system itself that just weren’t user-friendly,” Ferguson said. “And I think that’s where we run into the most problems with the brokers. We’re working really quickly to try to resolve those issues.”
Ferguson also noted that the exchange’s contact center was designed with 15 dedicated facilitators to assist insurance brokers leading clients through the system, but that at present only six were serving in that role. “Because of the massive volume we had on the individual side, some were pulled over,” Ferguson said.
The $6.1 million, to be used over the next 9 months, will be used for multiple purposes.
“The $6.1 million awarded to Rhode Island from CMS will be used to develop tools for SHOP that help employers and employees compare and evaluate the different health insurance options available to them,” said HealthSource spokeswoman Dara Chadwick. “It will also create a tool for brokers to upload census information and create quotes for small employers. It will also create the ability to integrate information into particular tools so that information doesn’t need to be re-entered when moving forward with the enrollment process.”
Ferguson pointed out that the exchange is in an early phase of its development.
“It’s only been six weeks that we’ve been up” with insurance paid for and supposed to be in effect, she said. “I think it’s reasonable to try to make the fixes.”
Ferguson’s first thought when she learned this week that businesses with 50-99 employees were being given an additional year by President Barack Obama to fulfill the employer mandate provisions of the Affordable Care Act was “political move,” she said.
She added that small businesses had been an important focus for the Rhode Island exchange from the start, and that the grant would help the exchange develop its relationship with small business owners.
“We made a decision early on in the state that the value-add to doing all of this was going to be the ability to help small businesses have more predictable pricing,” she said. “We wanted them to know that because of full employee choice, they could pick an amount and find a plan that was within that amount. And so they could budget for it in their normal course of business, as opposed to today they don’t find out until 30 days out from the renewal that they might have a 30 percent increase. If that’s not budgeted in, that’s tough.”