Updated July 2 at 5:02pm

Rhode Island can learn from Mass. reform effort

By Richard Asinof
Contributing Writer
Many of the top supporters of health care reform in Rhode Island joined in a Providence Business News-sponsored panel discussion on “Health Care Reform and the Insurance Exchange,” held March 28 at the Crowne Plaza Providence-Warwick.

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HEALTH CARE

Rhode Island can learn from Mass. reform effort

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Many of the top supporters of health care reform in Rhode Island joined in a Providence Business News-sponsored panel discussion on “Health Care Reform and the Insurance Exchange,” held March 28 at the Crowne Plaza Providence-Warwick.

Christine Ferguson, executive director of what’s now called the R.I. Health Benefits Exchange, began the dialogue with a nuts-and-bolts overview of the exchange, promising that it will be “amazing and fantastic.” She called it a “once in multiple-generation” opportunity to change health care delivery for the better in Rhode Island – and the nation.

The exchange will be open for business on Oct. 1, Ferguson said, with a Web presence and comparison-shopping for the different health-insurance plans, as well as an informational contact center to help consumers with questions.

Actual enrollment through the exchange will begin on Jan. 1, 2014, Ferguson continued. There will be a six-month open-enrollment period for individuals, beginning in October, and small businesses with less than 50 employees will have a running enrollment period, depending on their renewal dates.

On April 2, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said that it was delaying employees from small businesses the choice to purchase health insurance in federally run exchanges for a year, until Jan. 1, 2015. However in Rhode Island, the plan remains to offer employees that choice beginning in Jan. 1, 2014.

“Our extensive outreach in the business community has shown that both small-business employers and employees clearly value choice in the exchange marketplace, and our intention is to build a program that will offer them full employee choice beginning in 2014,” said Ian Lang, associate direction of marketing and communications for the R.I. Health Benefits Exchange.

Testing of the exchange’s new IT system – which will include online Medicaid eligibility and enrollment for approximately 270,000 Rhode Islanders – will begin in April.

By Jan. 1, 2015, the exchange will need to become self-sustaining, without support from federal funds. Ferguson did not share any details of how that will be accomplished; fees consumers and insurers may be charged for the exchange’s services were not explained.

The biggest news Ferguson delivered in her opening remarks was that the exchange would have a new name. “The new name and branding of that name will be revealed as part of a marketing and outreach effort scheduled to begin in early summer.

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