Lack of details about exchange raising concerns

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Associated Press

Posted on August 18, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Updated Sunday, Aug 18 at 6:00 AM

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — With just six weeks until sign-ups begin for the new online health insurance marketplaces in Wisconsin, regulators have yet to release any details about what plans will be offered or how much they will cost.

Advocates of the President Barack Obama's health care overhaul raised concerns Friday about the lack of information and what ultimately will be released by Gov. Scott Walker's administration before residents can start signing up Oct. 1. The exchanges go live in January.

"It's the question people are most curious about," said Bobby Peterson, director of ABC for Health, a Madison-based public interest law firm. "That's what they want to know, how much is this going to cost?"

Even more concerning for the law's advocates is Walker's ardent opposition both to the health care law and the state's involvement in making the marketplaces operational. Walker declined to have the state set them up, deferring to the federal government, and also rejected a federally funded expansion of Medicaid.

Last week, Walker's administration released names of insurance companies that will offer plans through the exchange, but offered no details about rates or plans.

Deputy Insurance Commissioner Dan Schwartzer said earlier this week the department was still analyzing the rate and coverage information. He didn't provide a timeline for its release.

Other states, including Ohio and Florida, have already provided their citizens with rate information. The lack of information from Wisconsin is concerning, said Donna Friedsam, health policy director at the Population Health Institute of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

"There's a lot of interest and some anxiety about wanting to know what those rates are going to be," she said.

The delay in release of the rate information could be good or bad, said Jonathan Gruber, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who helped craft Massachusetts' health care law in 2006. Walker's administration could be negotiating with insurance companies to lower rates, Gruber said, or it could be due to them spinning the numbers to show what they want.

When Ohio released its rates earlier this month, it showed premiums for individuals would rise an average of 41 percent. However, that analysis did not take into account reductions that will come from federal subsidies, a key factor Gruber said must be included in Wisconsin's information in order to reflect the true cost of the plans.

Like in Wisconsin, insurance regulators who released the data in Ohio are a part of a Republican administration that opposes the federal law.

The marketplaces are a key part of President Barack Obama's health care law. They are supposed to transform the way individuals and small businesses buy private health insurance, by increasing transparency and competition and boosting government oversight of insurers. The federal government will subsidize the policies with hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

On Thursday, six Wisconsin organizations were awarded just over $1 million in federal grants to help assist people in signing up for coverage under the exchanges. The money is to be used to help hire and train navigators, who will help people understand and sign up for insurance.

The state Department of Health Services has scheduled a series of organizational meetings across Wisconsin next week with groups that are interested in assisting with that work but aren't trained to be official navigators.

State Medicaid director Brett Davis said he expects thousands of people to be involved statewide in helping get people signed up for coverage. He downplayed concerns about how Walker's opposition to the law will affect that work.

"There's no adversarial relationship that's going on out there," he said.

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