Iowa's health insurance exchange opens to consumers on Oct. 1

Open enrollment period to run through March 31, 2014

Come Oct. 1, Iowa's 300,000 estimated uninsured individuals will be required to purchase insurance policies through the state's health insurance exchange.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, individuals who do not get coverage from their employers can buy individual or family coverage through the exchange, called the Marketplace.

"I think this is the most dramatic change in health care we have seen in this country since the formation of Medicare (and) Medicaid," said Dr. Jean Robillard, vice president of medical affairs at the University of Iowa, during a meeting with The Gazette's editorial board on Thursday.

Robillard said the insurance exchange will change the way providers compete for health care in the state and country.

"In the past we competed based on risk, now we compete based on cost," he said. "I think the population will really be able to look at what is less expensive for them, where you have the best network, where you have quality and where the costs are less."

The six companies that will offer policies in Iowa, provided their plans meet federal guidelines, will be Coventry Health Care of Iowa, CoOportunity Health, Avera Health Plans, Gunderson Health Plan, Sanford Health and Health Alliance Midwest.

Coventry and CoOportunity Health plan to sell statewide individual coverage plans. CoOportunity also intends to offer statewide small group plans.

Avera and Gunderson applied to offer individual and small employer group plans in regional markets.

Sanford and Avera applied to offer small group plans only.

The opening of the health insurance exchange on Oct. 1 means consumers need to make a decision to take advantage of the plans, said Tim Charles, president and CEO of Mercy Medical Center.

The open enrollment period when Iowans must purchase individual or family coverage runs through March 31, 2014. If insurance is not purchased during the six-month enrollment period, individuals will not be able to have insurance coverage unless they have a "qualifying event" give birth, get married or lose employer-offered coverage.

Cliff Gould, director and chief operating officer of CoOportunity Health, noted that co-ops were designed to be new competition in the insurance market.

Robillard also stressed the changes under the Affordable Care Act. Individuals will now be required to buy insurance or pay a penalty.

All officials are members of the University of Iowa Health Alliance, which is made up of University of Iowa Health Care, Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, Mercy Health Network in Des Moines and Genesis Health System in the Quad Cities.

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