Straight talk on health care reform: 'Get Covered Colorado' website explains health benefit marketplace
The Colorado Health Benefit Exchange won't be up and running until October 2013, but Colorado residents can start learning about it right now. The exchange has a new website – www.getcoveredco.org.
Having more Coloradans covered by affordable and adequate health insurance plays a major role in improved health for individuals and families and can help them deal with the financial burden of an unexpected or prolonged health problem. The Get Covered Colorado website might well be the most important first step toward getting there.
The purpose of the website is to explain how the exchange will work and to provide information about health insurance options. The information will be vital to many Colorado residents – as many as 1 million are likely to get coverage through the exchange.
When the exchange is up and running, it will be an "online marketplace: a website where Coloradans can shop for and purchase health plans in minutes," according to the site.
The website offers a wide range of information for consumers who will purchase insurance for themselves and their families, small businesses that will purchase coverage for their employees, as well as information for insurance carriers and brokers. The website includes an explanatory video and provides links to other resources.
The website answers important questions for consumers, such as the range of coverage that will be offered through the exchange (bronze, silver, gold or platinum), eligibility requirements for insurance-premium tax credits for individuals and small businesses and how those tax credits work.
Users can submit questions to the website if additional information is required. Organizations can request a speaker to talk about the exchange to a larger audience.
Since the Health Benefit Exchange is a work in progress, the website will keep users informed of important deadlines, milestones and public hearings, as well as news items. Consumers and small businesses can monitor developments and contribute to the process of creating the new exchange.
The exchange represents a major and positive change for Colorado's health insurance market. The Health Benefit Exchange will help to create a larger and more competitive market for individuals and small businesses. It will do so by creating a larger pool of consumers that can more effectively leverage purchasing power and manage risk. Insurance-premium tax credits offered only through the exchange will make coverage more affordable for lower-income Coloradans. The exchange will also let low-income state residents know if they qualify for a public program. It will work with other databases to determine whether a consumer qualifies for subsidies or a public program.
Colorado businesses and consumers can start purchasing coverage through the exchange in October 2013. Coverage will take effect in January 2014.
A separate web portal, the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), will provide information for small businesses and their employees. Through this portal, small employers will be able to enroll employees in a choice of health plans, and they may be able to use tax credits to do so.
The Health Benefit Exchange will not be operated by the federal government. Bipartisan legislation, passed by Colorado's state legislature, created the exchange as a non-profit public organization that operates outside of state government. A legislative review committee will help to guide the implementation of the exchange. Ultimately, the insurance plans offered in the exchange and the carriers that provide them will be regulated by the Colorado Division of Insurance, as they are today.
A study by Jonathan Gruber of M.I.T. estimates that 590,000 to 1.1 million Coloradans will purchase insurance through the state's Health Benefit Exchange in its first two years of operation (the exact number will depend upon how many small employers use the exchange). (1) That means 13 percent to 25 percent of all Coloradans will obtain health care coverage through the exchange by 2016. (2)
Having more Coloradans covered is essential for individuals, families and our state. The Get Covered Colorado website explains how we can take this important first step.
– Bob Semro
1) Colorado Health Institute, A First Glimpse: Estimating Health Reform's Impact in Colorado, Sept. 19, 2011
2) Gruber, Jonathan, Presentation to the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange Board of Directors, Sept. 16, 2011