A number of states are quietly considering merging their healthcare exchanges under ObamaCare amid big questions about their cost and viability. Many of the 13 state-run ObamaCare exchanges are worried about how they’ll survive once federal dollars supporting them run dry next year. Others are contemplating creating multi-state exchanges as a contingency plan for a looming Supreme Court ruling expected next month that could prevent people from getting subsidies to buy ObamaCare on the federal exchange. The idea is still only in the infancy stage. It’s unclear whether a California-Oregon or New York-Connecticut health exchange is on the horizon.But a shared marketplace — an option buried in a little-known clause of the Affordable Care Act — has become an increasingly attractive option for states desperate to slash costs. If state exchanges are not financially self-sufficient by 2016, they will be forced to join the federal system, HealthCare.gov.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provision referenced in this story is at Section 1311(f), which allows state exchanges to combine into “regional or other interstate exchanges,” subject to approval by the participating states and HHS. Another provision, Section 1333(a), would facilitate interstate exchanges by providing a mechanism for health plan issuers to pool risk and sell across state lines via “health care choice compacts” starting in January, 2016. Two or more states could enter into an agreement under which health plans could be offered in state individual markets, subject to regulation by the state in which the plan was written or issued, provided plans comply with the other states’ rules regarding market conduct, unfair trade practices, network adequacy, and consumer protection standards including standards relating to rating and handling of disputed claims.
While complex in and of itself, this might be easier to accomplish if state health benefit exchanges conducted eligibility and enrollment solely for commercial individual plans. A major complicating factor is Section 1413(c)(1) of the Affordable Care Act requiring each state to “develop for all applicable State health subsidy programs a secure, electronic interface allowing an exchange of data …that allows a determination of eligibility for all such programs based on a single application.”
This “no wrong door” policy requires the exchanges to screen households applying for coverage for income and household size eligibility criteria for both commercial Qualified Health Plans or QHPs) as well as state insurance programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). States have separate eligibility guidelines for these programs that won’t easily translate across state lines, especially considering a lack of uniformity among states on the Affordable Care Act’s expanded Medicaid eligibility. In addition, state operated exchanges as well as the federal marketplace have had difficulty integrating their IT systems to perform eligibility and enrollment functions fulfilling the Affordable Care Act’s “no wrong door” requirement.
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