HealthSource RI to offer more choice; director expects small business enrollment to pick up

Rhode Island's health insurance marketplace is offering more plans and a new carrier for 2015, and the director said Thursday she expects small business enrollment to pick up after a slow start.

HealthSource RI announced premiums for the 40 individual and small group plans being sold next year on the marketplace, which is part of the federal health care overhaul. That's up from 28 plans this year.

UnitedHealthcare is joining Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island and Neighborhood Health Plan in offering individual coverage.

HealthSource Director Christine Ferguson said consumers will have more options and that some plans will cost less — though most will cost more.

"There are many more choices in the individual market and changes in pricing that can be very favorable," she said in a briefing with reporters.

The premium for a 50-year-old, for example, ranges from $281 a month for a "bronze" plan to $534 for a "gold" plan. Co-insurance, copayments and deductibles vary. Tax credits to help lower the monthly costs are available for many, including individuals who earn up to $46,600 and families of four with incomes of up to $95,400.

About 26,300 individuals have signed up for coverage through HealthSource. Officials do not yet have figures showing how many of those were previously uninsured, Ferguson said. The overall number of uninsured in the state has fallen, in part because of the expansion of Medicaid and by capturing those already eligible for Medicaid coverage who had not taken advantage of it.

Officials acknowledge small business enrollment has been slow in the first year. As of Nov. 1, 347 employers had enrolled, representing just over 2,400 workers.

"I will be honest, it's been a slow slog, because we're really changing the dynamic in the marketplace," Ferguson said.

She also cited political uncertainty at the national and local level, including about the future of President Barack Obama's overhaul and the sustainability of the marketplaces.

"We're really hopeful," she added. "We see signs that small businesses are beginning to see the value of this."

Rhode Island has not identified a way to pay for HealthSource's operations and will use federal funds through next year, beyond the Jan. 1 date originally set for the state-run marketplaces to sustain themselves.

Citing concerns about cost, some in Rhode Island's Legislature have suggested handing HealthSource over to the federal government, though costs also are associated with that option. Cost estimates to run the exchange have ranged from about $18 million to $24 million.

The next open enrollment period runs from Nov. 15 into February. Those who already have insurance through HealthSource must re-enroll; coverage does not automatically continue.

Small business enrollment is ongoing.