Effects of health care exchanges just beginning to be felt

The effects of the new health care exchanges are only in the initial stages of being understood.Despite a federal government shutdown occurring the same day, Oct. 1 marked the opening of the state and federal health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. While only nine states will have their systems fully operational on the first, the ramifications for the health care industry, including the effect of the exchanges on insurance premiums, are already starting to be felt.

In states like Arizona that are relying on the federal government to run their exchanges, people without health insurance are still finding they can begin the process of researching their options.

Arizona as an example

Every state has had its own issues – political, technological, logistical, etc. – with implementing the Affordable Care Act. But Arizona is an interesting case study of how the law is coming together and how it is flawed.

Like most states, Arizona’s health care rollout is experiencing many difficulties in its initial stages. Technical glitches on the government-run website, healthcare.gov, persist, especially for those who are Medicaid-eligible.1 Several of the groups who have the greatest need for finding information about the new system, including low-income residents, are still in the dark. And Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, has had trouble dealing with her own party when it comes to financing outreach and other aspects of the law.

But all that is to be expected, according to Kim VanPelt of the Phoenix non-profit St. Luke’s Health Initiatives, which is helping to coordinate the new system in Arizona.

“None of this will happen overnight,” VanPelt told azcentral.com. “We fully expect there will be bumps in the road in the beginning. It will go fairly slow, but we think it will build over time.”

Overcoming obstacles

Despite those many bumps in the road, early analysis of the law’s effects are showing some positive signs. Arizona’s insurance premiums appear to be below the U.S. average, according to the Phoenix Business Journal,2 with the lower cost “silver” plans averaging about $250 a month as compared to a little more than $300 nationally.

Arizona has also turned over most of its health exchange operations to the federal government.3 Although that might hurt the state in the long run, it appears that the federal system has overcome many of the pitfalls experienced in several places, making it, at least temporarily, a viable option for those looking for information on insurance enrollment.

1 Alltucker, Ken, “Health Exchange Sign-ups Now Open,” azcentral.com, Sept. 30, 2013. http://www.azcentral.com/news/politics/articles/20130930health-exchange-sign-ups-now-open.html
2 Staff, “Arizona Health Insurance Exchange Prices Come in Lower Than Expected,” Phoenix Business Journal, Sept. 24, 2013. http://www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/morning_call/2013/09/arizona-health-insurance-exchange.html
3 Harrison, J.D., “Obamacare Exchanges are Fully Ready in Nine States,” Washington Post, Sept. 30, 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/on-small-business/obamacare-exchanges-are-fully-ready-in-nine-states-heres-what-to-expect-everywhere-else/2013/09/30/b2cc80e2-29e1-11e3-8ade-a1f23cda135e_story.html