Christine Ferguson comes from a competitive family. They value outscoring the competition and leading the pack. There’s pressure to perform.
So Ferguson, HealthSource RI director, takes solace that the health exchange, which is the state’s response to the Affordable Health Care Act, is number one or two in the country.
What’s discouraging, she told a gathering of business leaders Thursday, is that “the bar is pretty low.” She said systems in other state are collapsing.
“To me, the real issue is, can this work? Can we get enough traction?”
Ferguson called the state plan “very different than the rest of the country,” which has people looking at Rhode Island and assessing what is working here. Even so, she questions whether sufficient numbers will enroll, to lower costs, as it is designed to do, and provide coverage for everyone.
Ferguson spoke at a breakfast at the Radisson Hotel sponsored by the Rhode Island office of Independence Financial Partners, a member of the John Hancock Financial Network.
Ferguson did more than outline details of the exchange; she actively recruited businesses to sign up.
She said the focus of the state plan is on small business because “they never get a break.”
She called HealthSource RI a “one-stop shop” where employers and employees can pick from 16 plans and get predictability on cost for their budgeting purposes. She credited insurance brokers with collaborating with the system. Basically, she said, an employer can pick a plan for employees or let employees choose between the available plans.
And she thinks choice is the way to go.
“The only way to get a handle on this is if the individual makes the choices,” she said.
With individuals selecting their plans, they will be engaged in the system. For some employees, she said it will be the first time they understand what they are paying for.
The key is large numbers of enrollees.
“We need volume from small business. We need you not to be skeptical about this,” she said.
Ferguson said the health insurance carriers played a critical role in the exchange. She noted that already only several carriers – Blue Cross and United HeathCare being the larger ones – have a majority of the market. She rhetorically asked why these carriers would engage in a system where the individual, rather than the employer, can make choices.
“They made the decision to lose market share to drive reform,” she said.
Employers were interested but non-committal when Ferguson asked for a show of hands of those likely to use HealthSource RI. She realized she needed more information and provided sheets showing the cost of the 16 plans being offered.
Ferguson asked why employers were so hesitant.
One member of the audience said he had problems with Ferguson’s characterization that the system requires “a leap of faith.”
“That was a poor choice of words,” she said explaining that she understands businesses need to know what they are going into and require data to make decisions.
As the meeting came to an end, Ferguson asked for people to leave them their business cards so her office could get back to them and help answer questions. She met one-on-one with others.
“I’m competitive,” she said. “We really need to knock this out of the park.”