Six insurance companies will offer policies for new Iowa health exchange

Branstad encouraging Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield to participate

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa's location at 600 Third Avenue SE on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, in southeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)
Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa's location at 600 Third Avenue SE on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, in southeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)

DES MOINES — Six health insurance companies applied to offer policies for purchase on the new Iowa health insurance exchange by Sunday’s deadline, but the state’s largest health insurance company isn’t one of them.

Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield, which has 2 million policy-holders in Iowa and South Dakota, will, however, apply to list policies for the 2015 year, Wellmark Blue CEO John Forsyth said.

“This really isn’t a financial decision not to participate,” Forsyth said during a telephone interview Monday morning.

Instead, he said, the company was concerned about the lack of information available and the roll out of the exchange in Iowa.

“It wasn’t the state’s fault; they provided information as soon as they had it,” Forsyth said, adding the company was skeptical of the federal government’s ability to roll out its part of the program smoothly.

Under the Affordable Care Act, states have to set up exchanges in which insurance policies will be sold. States could opt for an entire state-run exchange, an entirely federal-run exchange or a state/federal partnership. Iowa, and six other states, chose the partnership model.

Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said that with six companies offering insurance and two offering plans statewide, Iowa finds itself “right in the middle of the pack, although we don’t have the entire pack yet.”

The six companies that will offer policies, provided their plans meet federal guidelines, are: 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 offer statewide individual coverage plans. CoOportunity also plans to apply for 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. Four companies will offer stand-alone dental policies.

Pollitz said “the Blues” in each state — in Iowa’s case, it’s Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield — are the companies that many are watching.

“In some states, the Blues are selling, in others, they aren’t,” she said. “It’s really looking like a business decision for each company. This is new everywhere, and everyone is learning on how it will work.”

Gov. Terry Branstad had encouraged Wellmark to post on the exchange. On Monday, the governor said he understood its reluctance.

“We understand that because of all the problems associated with the launch of these exchanges, they chose not to participate in the first year,” Branstad said. “They did indicate their intention to participate in the future. We understand they made a decision which they felt was in the best interests of their company and their mutual shareholders.”

If all applicants are approved, Iowans using the exchange will have at least two companies to choose policies from no matter where they live. Many will have four companies to choose from.

“Now we can get to work on the next phase of processing the applications and getting the results to the federal agencies for their process,” he said. “We will complete our requirement to deliver our recommendations to the federal agencies by July 31.”

People can begin purchasing policies on Oct. 1.


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