Lt. Gov. Defends HealthSource RI

Jun 3, 2014

Lawmakers are being asked to decide the fate of HealthSource RI, the state’s online health insurance exchange. At issue is how to pay for it, or whether to scrap it. And plenty of voices are weighing in on the conversation. The latest claims state officials were told years ago that building an exchange wasn’t viable but did it anyway.

Mike Stenhouse with the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity says consultants with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation advised Rhode Island officials in a 2009 report that building a state-based exchange would cost too much and that Rhode Island didn’t have the customer based to justify such an investment. But Lieutentant Governor Elizabeth Roberts, who spearheaded those early discussions about a state-based exchange, says Stenhouse has it wrong.

“What that report did was it said in 2009, before the Affordable Care Act passed, that if Rhode Island were to create its own exchange, there were a number of challenges it would have to meet to be successful.”

Roberts says passage of the law changed the landscape in Rhode Island and took care of some of those challenges. Critics continue to challenge the state’s ability to foot the exchange’s multi-million dollar bill, saying the $23 million dollar price tag is too high, while proponents say Rhode Island is only beginning to realize the benefits of having its own exchange, and investing is worth it.

Stenhouse says Rhode Island officials have touted the exchange's ability to contain costs. But the 2009 report said that ability was questionable. But Roberts challenges that assessment. She says HealthSource RI is coming out with a lower priced health insurance plan during the next enrollment period. And the Affordable Care Act provided  subsidies to Rhode Islanders who couldn’t afford health insurance. She says a locally funded, locally run health exchange can be more responsive to local customers and markets.