New Push For Health Insurance Exchanges
August 14, 2012

Federal Government Pushes For Health Insurance Exchanges

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

With the pick of Paul Ryan as the Vice Presidential candidate to run with presumptive Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the campaigns have shifted to focus on politics related to health care. One issue in particular, health insurance coverage, is particularly heated. According to Reuters, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plans to have four regional meetings with state officials and others to address health insurance exchanges and other points related to the president's healthcare reform law. The exchanges could provide health insurance to 30 million uninsured in the U.S., and should be managed by the state but could fall under federal jurisdiction.

Experts believe that the time is running out for states to establish health-insurance exchanges; as such, meetings on the exchanges were scheduled to start on August 14 in Washington D.C. and last until August 22 in cities including Atlanta, Chicago, and Denver.

"They need a lot of cooperation from the states in order to succeed," commented Joel Ario, who previously served as a director of administration at the Office of Health Insurance Exchanges, in the Reuters article.

According to the Associated Press, those who are opposed to President Barack Obama´s health care law are not looking to set up exchanges, which are described as new private health insurance markets available online. As a result, federal officials will create exchanges. This differs from health care management in the past, where states have taken care of insurance issues. It could become a political debacle for those who are not in favor of “Obamacare.”

The law gave the states the power to manage the exchanges with federal control provided as a backup. In the initial stages, the federal exchange could become the standard option for many states. Exchanges were created to help clear up the process of purchasing health insurance and to give consumers the opportunity compare different insurance programs. As well, consumers would find out if they could receive federal subsidies to assist in the payment of health premiums of if they qualified for increased Medicaid. The development schedule would be placed under the control of the HHS.

However, only 15 states and Washington D.C. have approved plans for their own exchanges. According to the Associated Press, the states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. Kentucky and Minnesota are also gradually working to adopt their own exchange. The other 28 states are waiting to see which candidates win the upcoming elections, as a shift in party control of Congress and the White House could affect the future of the law. Republicans have stated that they would work to repeal the Affordable Care Act and instate a law that would reflect their own policies.

On the other hand, HHS is working to create and test computer systems that would allow the federal exchange to come to fruition.

"I think the pressure is on them to deliver, and I fully expect they will," Jon Kingsdale, who worked with Romney in creating the nation´s first health insurance exchange in Massachusetts, told the Associated Press.

The system would include a website that would allow users to find available health plans by inputting the local zip code. The tool will give individuals the opportunity to find out if they qualify for subsidies or if they should explore Medicaid. As well, they can compare different levels of coverage specified as bronze, silver, gold or platinum. The federal exchange is being developed by CGI Federal Inc. and the federal data server hub, which verifies details raging from identity and income to citizenship and legal residence and is being created by the Quality Software Services Inc.

"What we are talking about building here is a system that is really using 21st-century technology, and it's not dependent like in the past on bricks and mortar or how many [federal employees] you have," explained Mike Hash, HHS official in charge of the new system, in the Associated Press article. "Information technology produces the opportunity for efficiency. It's much more easily scalable if you need to do it for a larger number of individuals."

The changes are a necessary component in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The law states that exchanges should be open to enrollment beginning in October 2013 and should be in full operation mode by January 1, 2014.

"It is a distinct question, which makes you wonder if at some point next year there will be a decision made to give states more time, or let the ones that are ready move ahead on their own," remarked Paul Ginsburg, a representative of Center for Studying Healthcare Change, in the Reuters Health article.