State still working on insurance exchange

Nevada’s health insurance exchange won’t have all the bells and whistles initially hoped for when it launches Oct. 1.

But state officials said the glitches should be minimal for consumers and the all kinks worked out by early next year.

CJ Bawden, spokesman for the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange that was created by the 2011 Legislature to set up Nevada’s online health insurance marketplace, said there are some “nice to haves” that won’t be available when enrollment begins.

“We’d like to have a virtual assistant in there,” Bawden said. “It’s not going to make it on Oct. 1.”

For people not Internet savvy, an online virtual assistance is a tool with almost uncanny qualities — the ability to comprehend sentences and answer questions. It pops up on a website and helps users navigate their way around.

Another feature not yet up to snuff is a function to sort insurance plans based on specific prescriptions covered.

“You’re going to be able to search each plan but we don’t have a sort function where if you type in a certain prescription it shows you every plan that has that,” Bawden said.

Instead, at least initially, people will have to click on each plan individually to see if specific medications are covered and at what price — and take their own notes to do a comparison.

Bawden said those setbacks will be temporary and won’t compromise the overall goal of the exchange, which is to make finding affordable health insurance in Nevada just a mouse click or two away.

“In 2014 we will have outstanding support functionality,” he said. “But we will not be missing any required functionality and will have a lot more than many other exchanges out there.”

Nevada has been ahead of the curve when it comes to planning for implementation of President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act enacted in 2010 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. Under the law states could set up their own online health insurance marketplaces to make finding coverage easier; form exchange partnerships; or let the federal government handle it.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, while opposed to the law, in 2011 supported creation of a state exchange, saying it was in the state’s best interest to set up its own program rather than cede control to the federal government, which would then bill the state.

It’s been a huge undertaking. Last year the state awarded a $72 million contract to Xerox State Healthcare to set up the computer system and support operations needed to begin enrolling people Oct. 1. Those costs were paid for by a federal grant.

Building a system to make buying health insurance easy was anything but. Besides just offering plans, the state’s web portal, called Nevada Health Link ( ) will also calculate subsidies depending on a consumer’s income or determine if someone is eligible for Medicaid. If so, the portal will ask if they want to apply for Medicaid and take a user to that web page.

Those functions require the state enrollment system to interact, hopefully flawlessly, with the federal hub to verify records with the Social Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security, and the Internal Revenue Service.

There’s one more perk the Nevada system will have that most states and exchanges run by the federal government won’t offer — aggregate billing.

Because the intent of the law is to require every man, woman and child to have health insurance, Nevada consumers will be able to pick plans geared toward the needs of each family member. A family of five could purchase five different coverage plans — and receive one monthly bill from the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange as opposed to five.


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