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State Health Insurance Exchange Hits First Speed Bump

Logo of the state's new Health Benefits Exchange.

Logo of the state’s new Health Benefits Exchange.

State health insurance exchanges were supposed to be the centerpiece of federal health care reform at the state level.  The Washington State Health Benefit Exchange was to be “an easily accessible, online marketplace for individuals, families and small businesses in Washington State to compare and enroll in qualified health insurance plans.”

But five months before it is scheduled to go live, the state’s small business marketplace is already in trouble.

On Wednesday the Exchange board held a special teleconference meeting to hear the news.  While eleven health insurance carriers have filed small group plans to be sold outside the exchange, only one tentatively filed a small group plan to be sold inside the Exchange — and that plan would only be available in four counties.

Carriers gave staff various reasons for staying away from the small business market in the Exchange, even though small businesses who enroll in Exchange plans for 2014 will be eligible for a 50 percent tax credit.

For the teleconference the Exchange staff were expected to recommend a delay until May 2014 for the small business program of the State Exchange, but there was one additional surprise.  The federal government has informed staff that if any small group plan files in the middle of the year, then all plans inside and outside the Exchange must refile.  This would involve huge costs.

As a result the Exchange staff has asked for more time and the board will re-examine the issue at their regular monthly board meeting next Wednesday.

For a background paper, go to http://wahbexchange.org/wp-content/uploads/HBE_EB_130508_WAHBE_Shop_Options.pdf .  Ignore for now the last page.