Daniel Shedd, president of Taylor Box Co. in Warren, is optimistic about the long-term prospects of HealthSource RI, the state’s new health-benefits exchange, and expects most small businesses will eventually use it to get insurance.
Still, Shedd isn’t ready to buy health insurance for his 45 employees through HealthSource RI just yet.
“At the end of the day, I have to do best by my employees and deliver the most within the budget I have for health insurance,” Shedd said. “I just don’t know that [the exchange is] ready.”
Shedd’s wariness to thrust his employees into a brand-new, untested insurance marketplace is shared by many Rhode Island small-business owners watching the exchange in its first year of enrollment.
Unlike Healthcare.gov, the federal health-insurance exchange created by President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, HealthSource RI launched this fall without widespread technical and operational failures.
With only a few glitches, the Rhode Island exchange enrolled more than 4,400 individuals in health insurance (3,200 in Medicaid) during its first month of operation, one of the better enrollment rates in the country.
But getting businesses to use the exchange, as well as individuals, is a major reason Rhode Island spent $84 million in federal grants to build HealthSource RI and expects to pay an estimated $26 million each year to run it.
And so far many small businesses – right now only those with fewer than 50 full-time employees can use HealthSource RI – are proving a tough sell.
“For small businesses, the public exchanges are not a slam dunk by any stretch,” said Samuel B. Slade, president of the employee-benefits division of USI of Rhode Island, an insurance broker. “The folks in Washington are making Rhode Island look good, because HealthSource RI is more or less functional. … But I do think enrolling people is easier than providing them with insurance cards, accurate billing and subsidies. The hard work is yet to come.”
Slade and other brokers, who arrange insurance for about 80 percent of group plans in the state, say most clients are choosing to stick with nonexchange insurance, at least in the short term. And when asked for advice, Slade said he is only pushing clients toward the exchange if they qualify for a series of exchange-only federal tax credits