By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – An ad hoc coalition of business interests in Rhode Island has formed a new group to give voice to a set of “principles” they would like to see incorporated into the operating structure of the new R.I. Health Benefits Exchange.
The 16-member group, which calls itself the Coalition for Affordable Health Care Choices, includes all three of Rhode Island’s commercial health insurers, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Tufts Health Plan of Rhode Island, and UnitedHealthcare of New England. Other members include the Rhode Island Business Group on Health, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, and the Independent Insurance Agents of Rhode Island.
The coalition’s spokesman is Jim Borah of Borah Associates, a Providence-based insurance brokerage firm. Borah also serves as president of the Rhode Island Business Health Advisors Council, a coalition member. The group’s coordinator is Cara Cromwell, a political consultant who managed Republican Congressional candidate John Loughlin’s campaign in 2010.
“We want the [R.I. Health Benefits] Exchange to be flexible. We want to make sure that it isn’t going to stifle creativity about what’s being offered in the free marketplace,” Borah told the Providence Business News. No one group or individual, he continued, “is looking to be the lead horse on this. We are all active and carrying the water.”
Borah, who currently sits on the screening committee to select an executive director for the new Exchange, praised the current efforts of Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts and R.I. Health Insurance Commissioner Christopher F. Koller in reaching out to the business community to become involved in the process. “We’re very happy with the direction they’ve taken. We’re very supportive of what they’ve done,” he said. “They have been very respectful of being inclusive to all different parties.” The coalition’s focus, he explained, is to ensure that business’s voice is at the table.
Included among the eight principles articulated by the coalition are:
Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, who helped to pull the group together, said that the coalition is still in its formative stages. “It’s starting an enterprise from ground zero,” she said.
Among the concerns voiced by White was her opinion that the Exchange’s operations should be kept small and focused. “We don’t want to see a situation where, for instance, all businesses are forced into the exchange, where you would have government-run health insurance system,” she said. Instead, “it should function as an accompaniment to the health insurance delivery system, to preserve what is working well.” When asked what she thought was working well, White said: “Flexible plans, innovative products, the broker network.”
The next meeting of the coalition is scheduled for March 22 at the Chamber’s downtown headquarters.
Roberts, who is chair of the R.I Healthcare Reform Commission, told the Providence Business News she welcomed the new coalition and its members, many of whom she said are already active participants in the process around the exchange. “We have always welcomed and provided for avenues of public participation,” said Roberts. “The exchange working group has more than 50 members. I have held many meetings in my office with the chambers, with the health insurers. We have always been very open to their participation and have expressed that throughout the process,” she said. “Sometimes, people think we invite too many people. We have made particularly made a point of having open meetings. Everyone is listened to, and issues are brought forward. It doesn’t mean that every single idea is followed.”
Koller told the Providence Business News that, on behalf of the interagency group charged with developing plans for the exchange, “we look forward to working with all stakeholders in this process.” The mission, vision and principles for the exchange, he continued, which were recently review by the Exchange’s Advisory Board, “sets out a direction for the exchange that is not inconsistent with the stated goals of this coalition,” he said.