Beginning this fall under the Affordable Care Act, Washington Healthplanfinder Business – a branch of the state’s online health exchange – will expand its coverage to businesses of up to 50 employees to larger businesses of up to 100 employees.
The program, which was piloted in Clark and Cowlitz counties in late 2013 and expanded statewide last year, is scheduled for open enrollment (for 2016 coverage) in early November.
Bethany Frey, a spokesperson for the exchange, said that business owners are now able to navigate Washington Healthplanfinder Business without experiencing the kind of technical difficulties that hindered the market launch for individuals in October 2013.
“The real benefit of piloting the program in Clark and Cowlitz counties was to test the system with a smaller pool of employers,” said Frey. “Sometimes when you have a huge influx of individuals using the system all at once it can be really difficult to fix things as you go along because you may have a lot more accounts that you need to make changes to. Having the ability to get rid of some of the bugs initially with a very small number of employers was really helpful.”
According to Frey, most of the bug fixes made between the launch of the local pilot program and today involved the website’s billing feature. Those issues, she said, are now a thing of the past.
“There have been a lot of improvements that have been made to that experience over the past two years,” Frey said.
One downside enrollees experienced during the business program’s pilot period was a lack of provider choice – only Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest was approved to offer insurance to local employers through the online marketplace. Since that time, Moda Health has been approved by the office of the Insurance Commissioner, and officials at the exchange are hopeful that United Healthcare will be next.
“With the potential addition of another statewide insurance company, this means that our health plan options will more than double for plans starting coverage on Jan. 1, 2016,” wrote Catherine Bailey, director of Washington Healthplanfinder Business, in an email to the VBJ.
According to Bailey, 20 percent of enrollments in the business exchange have come from Clark County alone, and she outlined four key benefits for employers not on the exchange to consider:
• Simplifying choices: Washington Healthplanfinder Business provides side-by-side comparisons of state-certified health plans, including their benefits, premiums and quality. All plans cover essential health benefits such as visits to the doctor and emergency room, prescriptions, and preventative care.
• Expanding employee options: Business can offer employees a variety of health plans, and their employees can choose the plan that fit their needs and their budget.
• Preserving employer control: Washington Healthplanfinder Business allows employers to determine their own level of contribution toward their employees’ coverage and make a single monthly payment rather than payments to multiple plans. Consolidated billing is also available.
• Lowering costs: Businesses can save money by spreading insurers’ administrative costs across more employers. Washington Healthplanfinder Business also provides exclusive access to a 50 percent tax credit for health premiums for eligible employers.
Under a mandate from the Affordable Care Act, employers of 50 or more full-time workers will be required to provide health insurance to their employees beginning in 2016. There is no mandate for businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
For more information about the ACA and Washington Healthplanfinder Business, visit www.healthplanfinderbusiness.com.