The Colorado health benefits exchange program received $17.9 million yesterday in grant money from HHS. The money will be used to hire staff and make progress on the technology that will be needed to run the exchange starting in 2014. We still don’t know how the Supreme Court will rule in terms of the legality of the individual mandate, and that makes the future of the exchanges a bit uncertain. But Colorado is making good progress with implementation of a state-based exchange. States that are waiting to see what will happen on the legal front may end up scrambling to get something thrown together at the last minute, or else relying on a federally-run exchange.
The Denver Post article I linked to above mentioned that the Colorado health benefits exchange “…will not be connected to the long-troubled Colorado Benefits Management System, which handles food assistance and Medicaid.” I’m not sure what ” not connected” means here… whether the exchange will provide no enrollment material for people who qualify for public assistance, or whether some other program will stand in for the Colorado Benefits Management System in order to make the exchange interoperable (or integrated) with Colorado’s public benefits programs.
Last summer, lawmakers in Colorado were concerned that federal requirements that visitors to the exchanges be screened for eligibility for Medicaid, CHIP and federal health insurance subsidies would increase enrollment in Colorado’s safety-net health insurance programs. Given the budget woes that those programs have had, the lawmakers were hesitant to make the exchange a “one stop shop” for public assistance programs. But much has also been said about the importance of integrating the exchanges with public benefits programs in order to close the gaps that people can fall into if their incomes fluctuate between eligibility for federal health insurance subsidies and eligibility for Medicaid. This proposal calls for the exchange and the public benefits programs to be interoperable as of January 1, 2014 and integrated as of December 15, 2015. For the sake of simplicity and protecting the needs of low-income families, it seems that the more seamless we can make the health insurance enrollment process (particularly for those who go back and forth between Medicaid and private health insurance), the better.
It will be interesting to see how the separate/interoperable/integrated scenarios for the health benefits exchange and Colorado’s public assistance programs play out over the next couple years as the exchange is created and implemented.