By Bob Semro
Colorado’s Health Benefit Exchange is on schedule and heading for a successful startup on Oct. 1, 2013, top officials told lawmakers on Thursday.
On that date, Colorado citizens and small businesses (with 50 or fewer employees) will be able to easily compare and shop for affordable health insurance coverage in a brand-new online marketplace. The exchange is a key feature of the Affordable Care Act and is designed to help more Coloradans get insurance.
Through the exchange, Coloradans will be able to purchase insurance with the help of federal tax credits. One goal of the exchange is to cover state residents who currently lack insurance, many of whom are low-income or work in jobs that do not offer coverage.
However, the program will help a wide variety of Coloradans. People with annual incomes between 133 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($30,656 to $92,900 for a family of four) will be eligible to use the exchange.
Health insurance plans that are offered for sale in the exchange must meet certain minimum standards, and each plan must offer a minimum level of coverage as defined by federal law and Colorado’s Division of Insurance.
Patty Fontneau, director of the exchange, and Gretchen Hammer, chair of the board overseeing the exchange, presented the annual update on the exchange to a joint session of the House and Senate health committees on Thursday. The exchange is required to report annually to the governor and state legislature.
Colorado’s exchange, like those in other states, will be funded with federal grants through 2015 as long as certain benchmarks are met along the way. After that, the exchange must be self-funded and financially self-sustainable. The exchange will do so through fees and other funding mechanisms determined by the state.
Some states have balked at setting up exchanges as required by the ACA, so they will use an exchange operated by the federal government.
Colorado is ahead of the game, however, because lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill in 2011 that created the exchange. That bill was supported by a broad-based coalition of business groups, health plans and consumer groups that favored creation of a state-based exchange.
The exchange has contracted with a technology partner, CGI Group Inc., which has offices in Denver and Lakewood, as well as other systems integrators in order to build this online marketplace. Parts of the new system will be tested soon, and a pilot program will begin in the summer. Once up and running in October, people can buy insurance using the internet; a “navigator” assistance program; licensed brokers; or by using a paper application. Coverage will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
The exchange will use an extensive outreach and education program to keep Coloradans up to date on developments and implementation. Currently, information is available at www.getcoveredco.org. In addition, all exchange board meetings are open to the public; dates and times are available on the website. Click here for the 2012 annual report.
Bob Semro is a health care policy analyst with the Bell Policy Center, a non-partisan policy research center that advocates public policies that reflect progressive values.