Updated May 22 at 5:40pm

Waiting for answers on reforms

By Richard Asinof
Contributing Writer
With just nine months before many of the Affordable Care Act’s new regulations, taxes, tax credits and penalties go into effect – as well as the startup of the R.I. Health Benefits Exchange on Jan. 1, 2014, businesses across Rhode Island are trying to calculate future costs when it comes to offering health insurance to employees. More

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HEALTH CARE

Waiting for answers on reforms

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With just nine months before many of the Affordable Care Act’s new regulations, taxes, tax credits and penalties go into effect – as well as the startup of the R.I. Health Benefits Exchange on Jan. 1, 2014, businesses across Rhode Island are trying to calculate future costs when it comes to offering health insurance to employees.

Getting answers on what to expect can be difficult, however, because of the still-evolving health-reform landscape.

For instance, exactly what products and plans will be offered by insurers for small businesses and individuals to purchase on the exchange is still unknown, according to Christine Ferguson, the exchange director, who spoke at a Feb. 28 meeting of the Health Insurance Small Employer Taskforce at Temple Emanuel in Providence.

Her expectation is that four health insurers – Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, UnitedHealthcare of New England, Tufts Health Plan and Neighborhood Health Plan – will all offer products on the exchange for small businesses, their employees and individuals.

But those plans won’t be filed with his office until sometime after April 1, according to R.I. Health Insurance Commissioner Christopher F. Koller, who also addressed the crowd of more than 125 people at the event.

Koller said that he was working “hand in glove” with Ferguson to negotiate high-quality, affordable health-insurance options for small business and individuals. In turn, Ferguson said that the exchange would offer Rhode Islanders a “robust resource” to compare health-insurance options. The only assurance that Koller and Ferguson could guarantee about such plans is that whatever product is offered on the exchange would also be offered as a product for the rest of the market.

Such uncertainty makes planning for her business’ health-insurance renewal difficult, said Valerie Ann Leduc, vice president of operations at Angelo’s Civita Farnese restaurant on Federal Hill. Leduc expects that the rates of premiums for her health-insurance employee plans will go up in 2014, despite health care reform and the efforts by Koller to control increases. “It can’t just be the commissioner” looking to control costs, she said.

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