While the Obama administration has pushed back for a year a mandate requiring many employers to start covering their workforces, officials have moved forward on the new insurance exchanges, which they hope will promote competition among insurers and drive down the cost of individual and employer-sponsored coverage.
Called DC Health Link, the District’s site will house two separate marketplaces, one for individuals and one for small-
business owners, where residents can purchase plans from several carriers and apply for tax breaks.
“At this point, we are testing the heck out of the system,” DC Health Link Executive Director Mila Kofman said, noting that her team passed the final security inspection from the Internal Revenue Service last week.
All that remains is a final operations review from federal regulators before the team can plug into a central data hub, which will give them access to the information they need from the Internal Revenue Service, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security. For instance, the hub will connect all state-run exchanges to citizenship and income records, which are necessary to determine whether enrollees are eligible for coverage and tax breaks.
Kofman expects to complete that last step in the coming days, and the site will go live Oct. 1.
On the District’s site, employers with 50 or fewer workers will be able to choose from 267 plans from four carriers: Carefirst, Aetna, United and Kaiser Permanente, the latter three of which have all lowered their rates on the exchange in the past few months. In addition, employers will have the option to either choose one plan for their entire company or select several plans from which their employees can choose.
Once workers make their picks, they and their employers can pay their premiums through the same portal.
“It’s like getting ready to get married — you can’t wait to walk down the aisle, but at the same time, you’re hoping you don’t trip,” Kofman said of the final preparations, adding that the staff has 25 call-center representatives ready to help troubleshoot and walk individuals through the process. “I’m both nervous and excited.”
Meanwhile, some states have already stumbled out of the gate.
In Maryland, for example, the marketplace for individuals will be ready for launch Tuesday; however, the state has elected to delay enrollment for its small-business exchange until the start of next year, when plans were supposed to take effect. Instead, coverage under those plans will commence in March at the earliest.