PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Officials offered new details Monday about how they plan to roll out President Obama's health law in Rhode Island, with less than three months to go before consumers can start buying insurance in the new online marketplace it creates.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee and other state leaders announced that the new "Obamacare" marketplace - technically known as the Rhode Island Health Benefits Exchange - will operate under the brand name HealthSource RI when it opens for enrollment on Oct. 1. A multimillion-dollar marketing push is planned beginning after Labor Day to raise its profile.
The slogan will be: "Your health. Your way."
- Study: Obamacare to subsidize coverage for 83,000
- Chart: How insurance will work in RI with Obamacare
- Nesi: 36 hours behind RI's Obamacare exchange
The officials also cut the ribbon for a new customer-service center at 70 Royal Little Drive in Providence, where Rhode Islanders will be able to ask questions and get information about health insurance. The contract to operate the call center was won by Connextions, a subsidiary of the Optum division of UnitedHealth Group, the huge Minnesota-based benefits firm.
"This room is going to be very, very important for the Affordable Care Act in Rhode Island," Chafee said during a ceremony at the facility, a large warehouse next to the railroad tracks. Rhode Islanders will be able to contact the customer-service center's experts with questions about health coverage by phone or in person, regardless of whether they get their insurance, he said.
Connextions President Steve Auerbach said over the coming weeks the company plans to hire 50 to 75 people to staff the Rhode Island customer-service center, which will eventually employ 70 to 100. The job openings will be posted online at jobs.connextions.com. HealthSource RI will begin holding community outreach events on Wednesday morning at Heritage Restoration in Providence.
Lt. Gov Elizabeth Roberts, a longtime leader on health policy in Rhode Island, she and other state officials always receive inquiries from citizens about how to deal with insurance problems and lack of health coverage. "Now we have an answer," she said. "Now we have a solution. ... We are going to make a really significant difference for the people of our state."
The federal government is paying the full cost of setting up and launching the health exchange in Rhode Island, and the state has received about $84 million from the Obama administration to fund the project. However, starting in 2015 Rhode Island will have to find money to cover the full cost of operating the exchange.
Rhode Island is one of 17 states that chose to run its state Obamacare exchange on its own; the others are leaving the job to the federal government. "Rhode Island is a full lap ahead of everyone else in the country," U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said.
The new state health-insurance exchanges are supposed to be Expedia-like online marketplaces where Americans can compare plans, purchase insurance and - if they earn less than 400% of the federal poverty level - receive billions of dollars in subsidies on a sliding scale. They are the cornerstone of Obama's Affordable Care Act.
The HealthSource RI exchange will be open to uninsured Rhode Islanders, as well as those who'd have to spend more than 9.5% of their wages to buy health insurance at work or who wouldn't receive adequate coverage there. The exchange will also offer a new Small Business Health Option Program (SHOP) where employers with fewer than 50 workers can send their staff to choose a plan.
One of the big remaining questions, however, is how much the HealthSource RI insurance plans will cost Rhode Islanders.
Three insurance companies - Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island and United Healthcare - are planning to sell 28 plans on the exchanges, 12 for individuals and 16 for small businesses with 50 or fewer workers. But state officials have yet to disclose how much they'll charge.
Christine Ferguson, HealthSource RI's executive director, said final information on the plans including premiums and deductibles will be available when the exchange's full website launches around July 28. Individuals will be able to enroll in plans for 2014 from Oct. 1 to March 31.
Ferguson expects 70,000 to 100,000 Rhode Islanders to enroll over HealthSource RI's first 18 months. "We're going to have an amazing story to tell a year from now," she said.
Ferguson said she expects a fourth insurer - Tufts Health Plan - to begin selling health plans on the exchange in 2015 and she hopes United will begin offering plans for individuals that year, as well. She emphasized that Rhode Island is one of only a handful of states where United has agreed to offer products on the exchange this fall.
HealthSource RI will also use its technology to crunch numbers on which health plans lead to better medical outcomes for their participants, something other states already do, and work with other organizations to try and hold down the rising cost of medical care statewide, Ferguson said.
"The definition of success to me is, does it help people stay at work and work effectively?" she said.
Ferguson acknowledged that HealthSource RI's staff and consultants, like their peers in other states, are working around-the-clock in a frantic push to have the marketplace ready by Oct. 1. There are contingency plans in place if the IT side of the exchange isn't ready in time, she said.
"I think everyone is concerned about the technical side, across the country," Ferguson said. She added: "We're going to be ready."
An estimated 82,810 of Rhode Island's 1 million residents will be eligible starting next year to get new federal tax credits to buy health coverage in the state's Obamacare insurance marketplace, according to a study released earlier this year by Families USA, an advocacy group that supports the Affordable Care Act.
The vast majority of those eligible for subsidies are working families and Rhode Islanders ages 34 and under, the study found. Based on federal income guidelines for 2013, the law will subsidize individuals who make up to about $46,000 and families of four who make up to around $94,000.
The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates 14% of Rhode Islanders under the age of 65 were uninsured in 2010-11, while 60% were covered by their employers, 21% were on Medicaid or another public plan, and 5% purchased individual coverage.
Chafee signed an executive order in September 2011 to create the Rhode Island Health Benefits Exchange and tapped Ferguson, a former aide to Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney and the late U.S. Sen. John Chafee, to lead it last year.
Just 21% of Rhode Island adults had heard of the new health exchange as of early April, although two-thirds said they were interested in trying it after hearing it described for them, according to a Lake Research Partners survey commissioned by HealthSource RI.
"I think you're going to see a real sea change over the next five years in how people get insurance," Ferguson said.
Copyright WPRI 12
The sixth and final person to plead guilty in a long-running kickback scheme that cost the U.S. Navy $18 million is set to be sentenced in federal court in Providence.
Two-year federal review of controversial taxpayer-backed loan fund forced changes.
Governor Lincoln Chafee has directed that both the Rhode Island and U.S. flags on all public buildings, grounds and naval vessels across the state to be flown at half-staff.
Providence Mayor Angel Taveras says the city needs to get illegal guns off the street, following the shooting death of a city teenager.
A judge handed New England Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard another year of probation and 30 additional days in jail Thursday as a result of a drinking-and-driving incident in Nebraska last summer.