2013-02-21 / News

Islander testifies to Congress on benefits exchange

CHRISTINE FERGUSON CHRISTINE FERGUSON Christine Ferguson, director of the state’s Health Benefits Exchange, testified in last week in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in a hearing billed as a progress report on insurance exchanges. She was asked to testify by the Senate Finance Committee representing state-based exchanges because Rhode Island has chosen to build its own exchange rather than use the federal mechanism.

“Our exchange will serve two important purposes,” said Ferguson, a Jamestown resident. “First, it will provide a robust marketplace for all Rhode Islanders to identify health insurance coverage options and, for those eligible, to purchase coverage. Second, the exchange will negotiate for high-quality affordable insurance options on behalf of small employers and individuals. Our exchange stands on Rhode Island’s strong history of health care advances and the support that we have received from our congressional delegation.”

Also testifying at the hearing were Gary Cohen, a director at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Bettina Tweardy Riveros, chairwoman of the Delaware Health Care Commission, and Don Hughes, advisor to the office of the governor of Arizona.

“Why did we decide to create a state-based exchange?” Ferguson asked. “As we collected input from stakeholders, we heard again and again that high costs and unpredictable annual increases have made health insurance coverage unsustainable for most employers and out of reach for many individuals, from entrepreneurs taking the plunge into new ventures to those who are working multiple jobs. We want to build an exchange by Rhode Islanders for Rhode Islanders, one that benefits from and contributes to the work of other states but is created to meet Rhode Islanders’ needs.

The exchange functions as an online marketplace to easily compare and purchase health insurance for individuals, families and small businesses. It is scheduled to start enrolling Rhode Islanders in health insurance by late 2013 to begin covering individuals by 2014. Currently, an exchange board has been recommending design and policy decisions for the exchange to the governor in the early phases of development.

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