Jason Cardoza, owner of Truckers America LLC in North Kingstown, wasn’t scared off by the horror stories about health-exchange websites across the country or the potential risk of trusting his employees’ insurance to an untested government information technology system.
This past winter, Cardoza went online, from his smartphone no less, and purchased a Blue Cross & Blue Shield Rhode Island health plan for his four-full-time workers through HealthSource RI. It wasn’t difficult, he said, and the only thing he had to do offline was choose a broker.
“For me it was easy, but I’m pretty good with computers,” said Cardoza, whose company recruits drivers and trucking managers nationally. “The premiums are less, about $350 per month [for the company] than I was paying before.”
Of all the health-benefit exchanges created through the Affordable Care Act, Rhode Island was one of the few to even attempt to serve employers in the group market.
But although HealthSource RI is recognized as one of the most successful exchanges in the country, contrasting sharply with calamitous efforts as nearby as Massachusetts, attracting businesses to use the system has proven much more difficult than convincing individuals to try it.
As of March 31, the most recent figures available, Truckers America was one of only 175 Rhode Island businesses to have purchased health plans through the exchange, compared with 21,097 individual and family plans sold.
While the exchange has added businesses each month – there were 133 enrollments as of March 8th – the current pace would draw no more than several hundred enrollments at best by the end of the exchange’s first year.
Given the uncertainty of government funding for the exchange once federal dollars run out next year, the state’s experiment in the group market could become precarious if lawmakers begin looking for places to cut HealthSource’s $23 million annual budget.
Still, HealthSource Executive Director Christine Ferguson refuses to see the enrollment numbers as anything but successful and is pushing ahead to get more small-business owners to use the health exchange.
“When you think about everything that was going on in November and December in the political arena, it is not surprising businesses were nervous,” Ferguson said. “We had a good head of steam and with the talk nationally about [healthcare.gov] we lost some of that. We are having to do some education because this is a massive change. What we are seeing is a growing number of businesses understanding and participating and learning.”