HealthSource RI enrollment surges in second year

Blue Cross loses significant market share to Neighborhood

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Islanders are signing up for private health insurance plans through HealthSource RI at a faster pace than they did during the marketplace’s first year of operations, according to data released Wednesday.

A total of 26,380 individuals signed up for private plans using the state’s Obamacare marketplace from Nov. 7 through Jan. 3, HealthSource RI said in a statement. New Year’s Eve was the deadline to sign up for January coverage; some of the enrollees have yet to pay their first month’s premium.

HealthSource RI enrollment is more than twice as high as it was during last year’s enrollment period even though enrollment started more than a month later this time. Last year, 11,770 individuals signed up for private plans through Jan. 4, 2014.

“I’m encouraged by the enrollment numbers released today,” Anya Rader Wallack, who took over as HealthSource RI’s executive director this week, said in a statement. “With more than several weeks to go, we will continue to work diligently to sign up for coverage as many eligible Rhode Islanders as possible, before the open enrollment deadline on Feb. 15.”

About 6,000 of this year’s enrollees are new customers, with 20,313 – or about 78% – of last year’s customers renewing their coverage. HealthSource RI declined to automatically re-enroll customers due to concerns about changes in pricing and in order to encourage customers to comparison shop, officials have said.

In a noteworthy development, 43% of those who’ve enrolled in private plans through HealthSource RI this year chose a plan from Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, an insurer created in the early 1990s that has expanded from being exclusively a Medicaid provider since HealthSource RI launched.

Neighborhood executives made an effort to reduce premiums this year to attract more customers. Its growth has come at the expense of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, which has long dominated the state’s health insurance market. Blue Cross’s share of HealthSource RI enrollment has plunged from 97% last year to 54% this year.

UnitedHealthcare, which is selling individual insurance plans in Rhode Island for the first time this year, got 3% of total HealthSource RI enrollment through Jan. 3. Nearly 90% of those signing up for private insurance plans are receiving some form of federal subsidies to offset the cost of coverage, HealthSource said.

HealthSource RI’s separate Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) marketplace has gotten off to a slow start, with 422 small employers using the program to buy coverage for 3,078 workers and their family members so far. Three-fourths of employers who signed up have used an option that allows their employees to choose different plans.

Other enrollment data showed more than half of HealthSource RI enrollees are ages 45 and older, and slightly more than half are women.

The new enrollment data was released amid a leadership transition at HealthSource RI. Gov. Gina Raimondo, who took office Tuesday, announced before her inauguration that Rader Wallack, a consultant, would replace Christine Ferguson as executive director. Ferguson had led HealthSource RI since its inception.

It also comes amid an ongoing political debate over whether Rhode Island should keep HealthSource RI as a state-run marketplace or switch to the federal HealthCare.gov site. Raimondo has said she wants to keep the exchange state-run but find ways to reduce its cost from the roughly $20 million annual budget Ferguson had sought.

“We need a leader who can establish HSRI as a sustainable and affordable organization that provides clear return-on-investment to Rhode Island families and employers,” Raimondo said when she announced Wallack would replace Ferguson.

The Affordable Care Act, which President Obama signed in 2010, requires all Americans to have health insurance or else pay a penalty, and provides subsidies to offset the cost for most buyers.

Individual Rhode Islanders now have until Jan. 23 to sign up for health coverage that will kick in Feb. 1 using HealthSource RI. Open enrollment ends for the year on Feb. 15. Small businesses can sign up at any time during the year.

HealthSource RI also reported Wednesday that its contact centers have received 165,671 phone calls and 11,488 walk-in visits during this year’s enrollment period. The agency said its website has received 210,647 visits from 107,864 unique visitors over the same period.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi,

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