Governor Kitzhaber has just announced who will serve on the the state’s new Health Insurance Exchange.
The exchange will allow Oregonians to buy their health insurance on a web page — like going to Orbitz or Expedia to book a vacation.
The page won’t be up until 2014. But as Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, the state is already working on it and it’s the equivalent of setting up a whole new agency.
Most Oregonians get their health insurance through work: You get a job; the company offers a couple of different options; you chose one; sign a form. It’s pretty simple.
But for Oregonians who are self-employed, or who have to buy their own insurance, it can be a both confusing and expensive.
Take Portlander Haralee Weintraub. Seven years ago, she started a business selling pajamas for women going through menopause.
“It’s moisture wicking fabric, is what all the sleep wear is made out of,” Weintraub explains.
The idea is, it cools you off — if you’re suffering night sweats.
Haralee.com is doing well. But Weintraub had to buy her own health insurance. And she says, it was very confusing.
“It’s a language unto it’s own, that I just didn’t understand. It was just very difficult to try and figure out what’s covered under deductible and what’s not covered under deductible. And what is what they group things at. Some of the policies, blood work is fine. But if you have an MRI or any kind of machinery involved then that wasn’t,” Weintraub says.
Weintraub had breast cancer a few years ago, so the whole process was stressful.
That’s where the new health exchange is supposed to help.
It’s part of the new federal health care overhaul. Each state has been asked to set up its own exchange so residents have an easy and understandable way to buy insurance.
Bruce Goldberg is the director of the Oregon Health Authority. He says “300,000 people who currently don’t have health insurance will likely be able to now get it and afford it.” Staff at the exchange will ask insurers questions about coverage and make sure minimum standards are met. They will then tabulate the answers and put them in front of customers.
Goldberg says the web page will also have a list of the federal subsidies that are available. They’ll be on a sliding scale. But even a family of four making $89,000 a year, will qualify for some form of help.
“There’ll be an ability to go on line, indicate what your income is. That’ll let you know how much of the insurance will get subsidized in some way through a tax credit. And then there will be a variety of levels of coverage. There’ll be platinum, gold, silver and bronze levels of coverage.”
If you don’t have a computer, the state will have staff to talk to and a phone number to call.
For those worried about the cost of a whole new state agency, Goldberg points out the exchange will actually be a public corporation and shouldn’t cost the state a penny.
“The start-up costs are being born by the federal government. And after that it will be paid for by people who buy insurance on the exchange.”
Goldberg estimates the state is about a quarter of the way through setting up its exchange. A lot of the planning is done, but now those plans have to be put into operation.
“Rocky” King is the interim director of the exchange and is responsible for setting things up.
He says, “It is very different from starting a new state agency, where the infrastructure is there and you just hook into it. This is going out and negotiating liability insurance, this is getting your leases, this is where do we just start.”
Back at Haralee.com, Weintraub wraps a pair of pajamas in red paper before sending them out to a customer.
She’s looking forward to having one place to shop for insurance.
“I think it would be a great thing to be able to do because I think with the economy, with more companies not paying for health insurance, and people having to go out and buy their own. This would be I think a good thing that maybe people who would chose not to buy it, would maybe say, well wait a minute, maybe it isn’t that bad. Maybe I can pick up this policy.”
The plan is that businesses with fewer than 50 employees will be able to use the exchange. And maybe larger businesses in the future.
More than a dozen states have done as Oregon did, passing legislation to set-up new exchanges. But many states, primarily those that lean conservative, are not doing it.
Many people think the new health care law may be derailed by litigation, or reversed by a new administration.
The new exchanges are scheduled to go online, January 1st, of 2014.
Find more health news at http://news.opb.org/health
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