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R.I. Ahead of the Curve?

The Rhode Island General Assembly is currently considering enacting AARP-endorsed legislation to help the uninsured get health insurance – years before it is mandated to be implemented in the new federal health care reform law.

The General Assembly’s house bill #7707 (the Senate version of the same bill is #2580) would establish a State health insurance exchange called the “Health Hub of RI.” The bill was proposed for the General Assembly by Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts, and was sponsored in the Senate by Senator Charles Levesque and in the House by Rep. Amy Rice.

The goal of the “hub” is to facilitate the purchase of health care insurance products at an affordable price by individual and small groups, and is partially modeled on the proven benefits of the non-profit Massachusetts Health Connector.

The Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector features an interactive website that educates consumers on state law and enables them to browse and purchase affordable health insurance. The Connector is an essential component of the Massachusetts health care reform initiatives, which have pushed our neighboring state to have the highest rate of residents with health insurance in the nation.

A study by the Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy published in October 2009 showed that only 2.7% of Massachusetts residents remain uninsured as of spring of 2009.

In a study released March 15, Deborah Chollet of Mathematica Policy Research and independent consultant Deborah Faulkner presented that 140,000 Rhode Islanders, or 16% of the population under 65 years of age are currently without health insurance.

AARP, in its submitted testimony to the General Assembly, said it supports “health care reforms that significantly improve access to adequate coverage for those who are either without public or private insurance or at risk of losing coverage.”

Health insurance “hubs” or “exchanges” can provide non-biased information on insurance rates and coverage and help disadvantaged consumers find the best health insurance for them along with the most affordable way to pay for it.

As of the time of writing, the General Assembly committee’s hearing the proposals have held them for “further study” while tough decisions are made about the state budget and priority spending.

The new federal health care law passed by Congress implements state based health insurance “Exchanges” (much like that proposed in the “Hub”) in all states no later than 2014. The proposed Rhode Island bills could help thousands of our citizens procure coverage long before the federal requirements are implemented.

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