Health insurance exchange law confuses still

Government website to provide answers, direction

The hoopla over the state’s “health insurance exchange” predicament is growing. Federally mandated deadlines are looming and owners of small businesses around the state are worrying about evolving employee notification requirements even when coverage isn’t an issue.

“Everyone is still skeptical about the process but we’re hoping it will get cleaned up before October,” said Chan Dillon, president of the W.C. Dillon Company, a Franklin insurance agency.

Dillon, who founded his agency in 2001 and initially specialized in employee benefits insurance, said he’s advising clients to renew coverage “as far out as possible.”

The idea is to avoid having to meet compliance deadlines such as the one on Oct. 1 — when enrollment in exchanges is mandated to begin — and Jan. 1, when everyone must have health insurance or face a penalty. Notification requirements might still be an issue into the fall, but if companies' existing coverage is adequate, the real impact of this segment of the Affordable Care Act won’t be felt until renewals expire.

Other business owners have an entirely different question to consider. They may be better off altogether dropping coverage of their employees.

“As the details get worked out, some companies may no longer need to incur the cost of providing coverage, relying on the exchange instead,” Dillon said. 

Both for unemployed people seeking coverage and employers concerned about their ability to provide health insurance coverage, federal officials have issued guidelines — the latest linked here — that offer a template to help employers communicate insurance options to employees. It’s unclear if notifications are as urgent if a company's coverage extends beyond Jan. 1, but one local insurance advisor who asked to remain anonymous told the Post it would be better for employers to notify employees of their options by pointing to the Department of Labor website — and even better to document that such communication occurred.

What will folks find when they sign on to the government’s website? As it stands now, beginning Oct. 1, applicants may choose coverage backed by either BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Cigna and one other community-based program, Dillon said. Premium subsidies will be part of the bigger picture and while it may seem the insurance companies are footing the bill, they aren’t. The companies can and will ask the federal government for reimbursement.

For now, Tennessee is one of 27 states opting out of running its own insurance exchange. That decision made by Gov. Bill Haslam last December, turned over the responsibility to the feds and has stakeholders of all stripes now accessing the Department of Labor website and following the prompts.