Interest strong in state health-insurance exchange
By Natalie Villacorta
With the exception of a few glitches at the launch last week, the new state-run health exchange, HealthSource RI, is up and running smoothly and public interest has been high.
By mid-afternoon on Oct. 1, the first day of enrollment, HealthSource RI had received 1,444 calls and about 600 emails and assisted 25 walk-ins. Website page views averaged 3,000 per minute, with 6,000 page views per minute at one point in the morning, which caused a capacity issue, according to exchange spokesperson Dara Chadwick. But additional servers were added, and the website has been running fine since. By mid-afternoon on the second day of enrollment, 252 applications for coverage had been completed and processed.
Other state-run exchanges, including those in Maryland, New York, Kentucky, and Colorado, also got off to glitchy starts. Users of the federally run health insurance exchange, healthcare.gov, also faced long wait times.
Several small-business owners Providence Business News spoke with the day after the exchange opened had not yet visited HealthSource RI, though they said they were planning to. Some voiced the concern that the exchange is currently supported by federal dollars, but after 2015, the exchange must be self-funded.
Donald Nokes, president of NetCenergy, a small IT business in Warwick, and president of the Rhode Island Business Group on Health, said he looked at rate charts prior to the exchange’s opening and has decided to buy his company’s health insurance the same way he has in previous years. Nokes’ company does not qualify for small-business health care tax credits (for employers that have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees who are paid an average of about $50,000 a year or less), so there is no “compelling reason” for him to obtain a small-group plan off the exchange, he said, “especially initially.
Nokes said he and other business owners he has spoken with on the subject of health insurance are interested in “predictable, sustainable insurance premium rates from year to year.” He is concerned that the rates on the exchange will change when it is no longer supported by federal funds.
“Why would you jump into it the first year when it’s not yet funded the way it’s going to be funded the next year?” he asked.
Lisa Regan, vice president of Bliss Properties in Providence, said she is going to work with her broker to see if obtaining a small-group plan makes sense for her company. Some of her firm’s locations would qualify for the tax-credit, which makes the exchange plans, an “attractive” option. Regan also likes that the full employee choice option would give her workers many more choices than just the two they have now. The company’s health-insurance plan is up for renewal at the beginning of next year, so Regan has until Dec. 15 to decide if her company will opt for the exchange if she wants her employees to have coverage that begins Jan. 1, 2014. •