Connector

Thanks to David Kerrigan of the Massachusetts Health Connector for pointing out that the Obama Administration has suddenly switched terminology: health insurance exchanges are now health insurance marketplaces. I think it’s a great idea, which is why I wrote a blog post on this very topic on Friday. The Hill (Obama officials ditch ‘exchanges’ in rebranding of healthcare reform law) covers the story.

However, the Hill has a weird angle on this. The article heavily features an anti-ObamaCare activist, Dean Clancy who says:

“They could call them motherhood or apple pie, but it wouldn’t change our feelings about them… We’re encouraged that they’re showing signs of desperation. I think that it’s too late in the game to try to start calling this something different. And [we’re] not going to spend a lot of effort fighting over a word.”

Clancy’s website is called blockexchanges.com, so he may actually have more commitment to the word exchange than the Obama folks. Somehow blockmarketplaces.com just doesn’t have the same ring to it. (That domain is still available at this writing in case you want to grab it.) Blockexchanges also has some misleading information on its home page:

“Remember, without the state exchanges, ObamaCare cannot function.”

Actually, the federal government will step in if the states don’t.

Personally, I don’t sense desperation but rather a gradual wising up about what implementation will require. The term “marketplace” makes a good deal of sense for someone who is comparison shopping for health insurance. Here’s to more commonsense improvements as ObamaCare is rolled out.

David E. Williams is co-founder of MedPharma Partners LLC, strategy consultant in technology enabled health care services, pharma, biotech, and medical devices. Formerly with BCG and LEK. He writes regularly at Health Business Blog, where this post first appeared.

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I’m a health care expert who follows health reform closely, so when I’m confused about something I know most people are.

When Massachusetts passed the universal coverage law in 2006 I didn’t understand exactly what the Connector was supposed to do. If they had called it a health insurance store or marketplace or comparison site I would have grasped the concept better. Once it’s explained it’s obvious, but why use the word “connector” in the first place?

The federal Affordable Care Act makes matters even worse. It calls these things health insurance “exchanges.”

That word has the wrong connotations. When I hear the word “exchange” I think of a stock exchange. That’s not somewhere I go to buy or compare products or services to use. Others think of “exchange” as what they do when they made a purchase that was the wrong size or received a gift they didn’t like.

Even for health wonks that fully grasp the concept, the word “exchange” is confusing, because the term is also used in the context of health information exchanges, which are used to exchange clinical data. I often hear people asking about the impact of the “exchange” –without specifying “insurance exchange” or “information exchange,” and I have to ask them which they mean.

There’s a simple solution to this: let’s dump the word “exchange” and use a term that’s more understandable and appropriate. How about:

  • Store
  • Marketplace
  • Comparison site
  • Supermarket

David E. Williams is co-founder of MedPharma Partners LLC, strategy consultant in technology enabled health care services, pharma, biotech, and medical devices. Formerly with BCG and LEK. He writes regularly at Health Business Blog, where this post first appeared.

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This report of recent activity in Massachusetts may be of special interest to my out-of-state readers. The insurance exchange set up by the Legislature when the MA health care access bill was passed has gotten very good grades. The folks there have had many things to balance, and they have done it thoughtfully. This report was posted on April 22 by Glen Shor, the current Executive Director. He succeeded Jon Kingsdale last April.

April showered us with reasons to be optimistic about the state of health care reform in Massachusetts.

Faced with projected 11% membership growth in the Commonwealth Care program next year as people lose unemployment benefits – and no additional resources to cover that growth – we encouraged our Medicaid managed care organizations to deliver high-quality, cost-effective coverage for less. They came through for the taxpayers with savings of $80 million, meaning that our members will not have to face the prospect of benefit reductions or unaffordable co-payments.

There was also good news for small business owners looking for an easy way to find affordable health insurance for their employees. Starting in July, we are eliminating all up-front fees for purchasing coverage through the Health Connector and will be launching a wellness program and premium discounts for qualifying small businesses. Within a few months, we will also be expanding the choice of health insurance carriers available to small businesses through our easy-to-use, online shopping experience – and even adding an additional carrier for individual purchasers. Our unsubsidized Commonwealth Choice program has doubled in membership over the past year-and-a-half, and these upgrades should make it an even more appealing tool for comparing options and choosing coverage that best suits one’s needs.

And, of course, the fifth anniversary of Massachusetts health care reform was officially marked by Governor Patrick and others at the Dorchester House this month. While we are proud of the fact that 98.1 percent of our residents and 99.8 percent of our children have coverage, the event poignantly showcased that reform isn’t just about numbers. It’s about helping people. We’re succeeding on both fronts.

On the national scene, the Massachusetts experience continues to be closely examined as other states begin to develop their health insurance Exchanges. Partnering with MassHealth and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, we were successful in obtaining a $35.6 million three-year federal grant that will not only help us share our technological knowledge and practices with other New England states but also improve our web-based shopping experience for Massachusetts consumers and small businesses.

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