NC Chamber opens own insurance exchange; federal site upgraded
Posted October 11, 2013
Updated November 4, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — The same day that the website that handles health insurance enrollment for much of the country launched a critical upgrade, the North Carolina Chamber announced that it would offer its own insurance exchange for companies statewide.
People shopping for health coverage have been stymied for more than a week by the healthcare.gov site, which crashed Oct. 1 when state health exchanges opened nationwide under the Affordable Care Act. Federal officials have made various software and system upgrades in recent days to improve service, and they rolled out a major change Friday to address a key criticism of the site.
Previously, everyone had to create an account on the site before they could browse through the various insurance options available to them. Officials said the accounts gave people a better idea of the overall cost of coverage under different health plans because it would factor in any federal subsidies they could receive, but critics said the account requirement simply created a bottleneck on the site.
Now, people can check out all of the insurance options provided through their state's exchange without first creating an account, although the site notes that the prices shown don't reflect any subsidies.
Meanwhile, the N.C. Chamber said nationwide health care payment and benefit technology company CieloStar would operate its private insurance exchange. No insurers have signed up yet to offer plans through the exchange, and quotes won't be available until mid-November.
Private exchanges are geared toward employers, rather than individuals, and they don't provide the subsidies the government is offering to some people through HealthCare.gov. They may, however, offer dental, vision and other benefits not included in policies on the public exchanges.
"This is simply an option," said Jim Simpson, chief operating officer of the N.C. Chamber. "If (someone) can find a better deal somewhere else, have at it. Ultimately, what we don't want is an employer deciding between, 'Do I need to offer this benefit, or do i need to offer this job?'"
Simpson said fewer companies are picking a one-size-fits-all health insurance plan for their employees. Rather, they provide employees an annual allowance and let them choose a health plan that suits their needs.
The idea is to allow employers to rein in health care costs and give employees flexibility and choice, he said.
Digital Benefit Advisors, a national consulting company, also plans to offer a private insurance exchange in North Carolina, starting Nov. 7.