Options for students, businesses different in Utah health exchange

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Businesses and students in Utah will see the insurance marketplace change as the state becomes the first nationwide to adopt a dual-model health care system.

Utah’s new plan will divide the health care responsibilities between the state and federal government. It will allow Utah to continue to run its existing health insurance marketplace for small businesses, but the federal government will run the state’s individual exchange.

This type of plan is the first of its kind to be put in place as the two marketplaces will operate independently of each other and split the responsibilities. Utah’s online marketplace is called “Avenue H” and will offer small businesses the opportunity to choose from multiple health insurance options for themselves and their employees.

Mark D. Andrews, left, legislative analyst, speaks with Rep. James A. Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, during the Health Reform Task Force meeting Thursday, May 16, 2013, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Utah legislators are shifting their focus to getting the state's newly-approved split-model health insurance exchange ready for Oct. 1 open enrollment. The state's health reform task force met to hear from state officials about what needs to be done over the next four-plus months. The federal government has approved a plan that will allow Utah to continue to run its existing health insurance marketplace for small businesses. (AP Photo by Rick Bowmer)
Mark D. Andrews, left, legislative analyst, speaks with Rep. James A. Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, during the Health Reform Task Force meeting Thursday, May 16, 2013, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Utah legislators are shifting their focus to getting the state’s newly-approved split-model health insurance exchange ready for Oct. 1 open enrollment. The state’s health reform task force met to hear from state officials about what needs to be done over the next four-plus months. The federal government has approved a plan that will allow Utah to continue to run its existing health insurance marketplace for small businesses. (AP Photo by Rick Bowmer)

Once the employer is enrolled, Avenue H can allow their employees to go in and pick what options will benefit them most.

“Our biggest feature is that we have a defined contribution plan,” said Patty Conner, director of the Office of Consumer Services for Avenue H. “In our model an employer can come on and say, ‘I want to join Avenue H, but I want to let my employees pick what plan is best for them.'”

The small business exchange started in January 2010, beginning with 11 employers as a pilot program. In the fall of 2010, all small businesses were invited to join. By 2014, the only marketplace from which small employers can get a federal tax credit will be Avenue H.

Most college students will use the individual market provided by the federal system. In October, students under the age of 30 will be able to go online to heathcare.gov and register for a high level catastrophic plan.

“A high level catastrophic plan will be offered because usually college students don’t understand insurance yet,” Conner said. “I like to use the example that students would much rather buy the new iPhone than insurance.”

All single students on campus are able to get health insurance through BYU, although many are unclear about their plans for coverage after graduation.

Melissa Smith, a Ph.D. student from Blackfoot, Idaho said, “My goal is the get a job that provides good benefits once I graduate, but that’s about as much as I’ve thought about health care.”

Conner said Utah has done a good job implementing the Affordable Care Act while maintaining the state’s involvement in health care.

“Utah has been an innovator in health care,” Conner said. “We have been working on helping our citizens get affordable health care for years now. There has been multitude of things gathered together to make a change.”

According to Aaron Larson, BYU’s assistant director of Health Services, Utah helped to pioneer the concept of a health exchange marketplace in the first place, and that they’re simply updating the system now.

“Utah’s health exchange is the second oldest in the country. It started long before health reform was on the map. Massachusetts was first, then Utah,” Larson said.

 

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