Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Consumers raise concerns with CT insurance exchange

Consumers and small businesses had a rare opportunity to share their concerns with CT’s health insurance exchange Friday. A standing room only crowd met with the exchange’s CEO, Kevin Counihan at a restaurant in Glastonbury. Christie Hager, HHS Regional Director, also attended. Comments focused on the lack of consumer and small business input to the exchange, inappropriate influence of insurers, and the exchange staff’s decision not to negotiate with insurers to get the best value for customers. Through negotiation, MA’s exchange has been able to keep the rate of premium increases to half what it is outside their exchange. However prices in Utah’s exchange, which does not negotiate with insurers as CT’s exchange is planning, are actually higher than prices outside the exchange. CT’s exchange is being set up by the state, with millions in federal grants, to help consumers get decent, affordable coverage and is expected to purchase on behalf of one in ten state residents. As of Jan. 1, 2014, everyone in CT will be required to have coverage. Residents who qualify for federal affordability subsidies will have to buy their insurance through the exchange. Check back at the CT Health Policy Project’s site soon for a brief on the benefits for CT consumers, promoting value and affordability, through negotiation on CT’s exchange.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

CT exchange staff won’t negotiate with insurers on behalf of consumers or small businesses

Staff of the CT Health Insurance Exchange have “opted to utilize an ‘any qualified plan’ approach” for determining which plans can be offered in the exchange. Proposed qualifications are minimal and generally only what is required by the Affordable Care Act. This decision is counter to the CT exchange’s own research. According to the market consultants, “One of the most attractive aspects of the Exchange is that the big insurance companies compete for their business. The feature evoked references to Lending Tree’s slogan ‘When banks compete you win.’” Utah’s health insurance exchange has pursued an “any qualified plan” approach, similar to CT’s staff proposal, and has attracted little enrollment with no evidence of cost control. Massachusetts’s Connector, on the other hand, operates with an active purchasing approach – negotiating with insurers to get the best price and quality for consumers. Annual premium increases for plans in Massachusetts’s exchange have been half the increase of plans outside the exchange. Starting in 2014, every CT resident will be required to secure health coverage. Over 150,000 state residents will have to buy it in the exchange to get federal affordability subsidies. According to the staff memo, the decision not to negotiate on behalf of consumers has been made and they are only taking comment on how to implement that policy. The memo was delivered Monday to the Qualified Health Plan Committee that no longer includes a consumer representative due to the unfortunate loss of Jennifer Jaff.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

CT still earns a C+ on reform

Once again, CT health care thoughtleaders give our state a C+ on health reform. From the beginning of the CT Health Thoughtleaders Survey in February, CT has varied between C and C+. CT has always received a B for effort. In good news, grades for the CT Health Insurance Exchange improved since June with fewer D’s and some A’s in this survey. Unfortunately, grades for Engaging Consumers in Policymaking and Data-based Policymaking have fallen. The former was the most common recommendation from thoughtleaders to improve progress toward reform. The overwhelming response was to engage consumers in policymaking – increase consumer voices, greater public engagement in the process, and engage advocates. Other suggestions included smarter policymaking (data, best practices), improve communications and transparency, convene stakeholders to build trust, and guard against conflicting financial and special interests. New questions in this survey found that almost all thoughtleaders are somewhat or very engaged in the process of reform, however all but four cite barriers to engagement. Understanding how critical stakeholder engagement will be to success, policymakers should work to improve effective, meaningful access to the process. A disturbing number of respondents have not been asked, or have tried but found few ways to participate. The Thoughtleader Survey is part of the CT Health Policy Project’s Health Reform Dashboard project at www.cthealthreform.org.