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By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee issued an executive order on Sept. 19 establishing the Rhode Island Health Benefits Exchange, an event that he called a critical milestone in getting all Rhode Islanders covered with affordable health insurance.
“Today, the Governor took a major step in fundamentally changing the status quo for how Rhode Islanders purchase health coverage,” said Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts, chair of the R.I. Healthcare Reform Commission. “The purchasing power of individuals, families and small businesses will be brought together in a way that will allow real changes to be made to start to moderate the sharp increases in the cost of health care.”
The newly created R.I. Health Benefits Exchange will operate as a new division within the executive branch, its purpose “to provide benefits for persons lacking adequate insured coverage and to lower costs or improve the quality, availability and accessibility of health services.”
The R.I. General Assembly failed to enact enabling legislation for the exchange during its last session, after the proposed bill became entangled in a debate over federal rules on abortion. That failure forced Chafee to use an executive order to create the new exchange, in order to meet federal funding deadline of Sept. 30 that is worth more than $10 million in grants for Rhode Island, according to Roberts.
Now that the exchange has been established, Roberts said that it was possible that it exchange could be converted into a quasi-public authority, if the R.I. General Assembly passes enabling legislation in a future session. “It’s up to them,” she told Providence Business News. “Right now, we can’t wait.”
The exchange will function as an online portal and marketplace enabling individuals, families and small businesses to purchase health insurance, with its construction fully paid through federal funds. “It should be very efficient and economical, automated and online,” said Deborah Faulkner of the Faulkner Consulting Group, the project director of the state’s efforts to design the working mechanics of the exchange, working under a federal grant to the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner. The current plan has the exchange scheduled to start enrolling Rhode Islanders in health insurance by late 2013.
A potential legal challenge to the Health Benefits Exchange may be forthcoming from the R.I. Right To Life Committee, which said in July it had hired a lawyer to research a legal challenge to the governor’s executive order.
Chafee also appointed the public members of the exchange’s board created in the executive order, naming former U.S. Attorney Meredith “Meg” Curran as chair, and Donald Nokes, president and co-founder of NetCenergy, as vice-chair.
Public members of the Exchange’s board include:
Government members of the Exchange’s board include:
The executive order includes a strict conflict of interest provision for board members. The order also creates an advisory council to tap the expertise that insurers, brokers and medical providers, who are otherwise prohibited from board membership, can bring to the Exchange design and planning process.