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By Richard Asinof
By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – The R.I. Health Benefits Exchange has a new name – HealthSourceRI, a new website portal – HealthSourceRI.org, and a new consumer call center, located at 70 Royal Little Drive, which will soon be open for business, as the state’s new marketplace for health insurance ramps to begin enrolling customers beginning Oct. 1.
A bevy of state officials – including Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. David Cicilline – were on hand Monday morning for the official ribbon-cutting for the call center.
The call center will be run by Connextions, an Orlando, Fla., firm owned by Optum, a division of UnitedHealth Group, Inc., the parent company of UnitedHealthcare, under a recently signed contract worth about $24 million for services through 2016. More than 150 Rhode Islanders are expected to be hired to work at the call center.
On Wednesday, HealthSourceRI will kick off a statewide road show, with plans to visit every one of Rhode Island’s 39 towns and cities before Oct. 1, as part of a public outreach campaign to raise awareness about the exchange.
The actual details of costs and benefits of the 28 health insurance plans to be offered on the exchange are expected to be released in the next two weeks, according Christine Ferguson, executive director of HealthSourceRI.
“I want to be able to describe them in enough detail that they mean something, so that people can get a sense of what the plans mean for them,” Ferguson told the Providence Business New, explaining that the goal was to create an apples-to-apples comparison for consumers when looking at co-pays and deductibles.
HealthSource RI is currently running through scenarios with a few small businesses and their employees to demonstrate how shopping and buying health insurance will work for them, according to Ferguson.
“In the past, basically, a broker and the insurance plan figured out what a composite rate would be, based on each person’s underwriting,” she said. “Now, that’s changed, we’re doing underwriting in a slightly different way: this is what a composite rate would look like, and this is what your choices would look like with full employee choice.”
Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island and Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island will be offering health plans in the individual and small business market for firms with fewer than 50 employees, according to Ferguson.
UnitedHealthcare will be offering health plans in the small business market. “We’re one of only five state exchanges that UnitedHealthcare is participating in,” she said. “It was a big step on their part to trust us and to work with us on it.”
In addition, Tufts Health Plan has pledged to offer insurance plans as part of HealthSourceRI beginning Jan. 1, 2015, according to Ferguson.
Ferguson said she was not surprised that there may be skepticism voiced by some. “There’s no precedent in government to being selling products, number one,” she said. “There’s not precedent in government to being doing a startup of this magnitude. There are a lot of moving pieces. It’s not surprising that there might be skepticism. There’s a lot of stuff swirling around, it’s so conceptual.”
We have to keep moving forward and do the best that is possible, Ferguson continued. “I want to make sure that in Rhode Island, you know that if you come here – as a small business, as an entrepreneur, as a family, you’re going to be able to get good quality health care at a good price that is designed around your quality of work and quality of life,” she said.
In addition to opening the call center and launching a statewide outreach tour, an advertising and marketing campaign is scheduled to begin in August, according to Ian Lang, spokesman for HealthSourceRI.
“There is all this angst about having information out there right now,” Lang said, defending the decision to roll out the advertising campaign closer to the Oct. 1 timeframe. “The problem is, we’re selling a product,” he said. “You don’t want to increase awareness of the product, and then basically say to people, ‘You can’t access the product, you can’t enroll yet, you can’t buy the product for four months.’”