Exchanges among best aspects of Obamacare
Beginning Tuesday, Coloradans will be able to shop online for health insurance plans, comparing scores of different plans from at least a dozen companies.
Whether they will actually be able to purchase plans to go into effect in January remains uncertain, as Congress continues to wrangle over the budget and implementation of the Affordable Care Act. But the health insurance mall will be open, in the form of online health exchanges, and Colorado is leading the nation in that regard.
For the first time, health insurance will begin to resemble auto insurance — where companies such as Geico, Progressive and All State compete for business and consumers can shop around to see which firms offer them the best deal and the plans that best fit their needs.
The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has many flaws, from its incentives for employers and individuals to purchase insurance to the arbitrary method by which waivers have been granted, to the panels that are assigned to determine what will be covered.
But the health insurance exchanges are one of the better ideas associated with Obamacare, perhaps the best one. They apply the principles of free-market competition to health insurance purchases for individuals who don’t have insurance through their workplace, and they allow consumers to compare prices and plans online.
For people in most states, that will mean going to a health insurance exchange set up by the federal government because lawmakers in those states refused to establish their own exchanges. But, as the articles in today’s Daily Sentinel make clear, that’s not the case in Colorado.
Here a bipartisan group of legislators pushed a bill to create an insurance exchange for this state. The result is http://www.ConnectforHealthColorado.com, a website that goes live Tuesday. On it, people can examine a variety of plans at the bronze, silver, gold and platinum levels of service, as well as whether they qualify for a federal subsidy.
It will be “the most market-based market in the country,” according to Steve ErkenBrack, the president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Health Plans and a member of the board of the group overseeing the Colorado exchange.
Other sources say that Colorado’s health insurance exchange is already being viewed as a model for the country because it is expected to have more competition and more available plans than any other.
We don’t mean to suggest that using ConnectforHealthColorado will be as easy as shopping for the latest book or DVD on amazon.com. It will be complicated. That’s why experts advise consumers to consult with an insurance broker or a federally approved guide to help them understand all the intricacies of the site.
Nor are we predicting what prices will look like on the exchange. In fact, there is an ongoing dispute over whether the Affordable Care Act will actually make insurance more or less affordable for most Americans. A report from the Department of Health and Human Services last week touted lower prices for many Americans. But critics say the HHS report focused mostly on low-income people who will receive the largest subsidies for insurance.
One thing seems certain: A free-market approach to health insurance, where consumers can compare prices and plans, is the best way to ensure prices are affordable in the long run.