Kan. lt. gov.: New exchange not competitive enough

Colyer says feds' new online health insurance marketplace for Kansas not competitive enough

Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a leading critic of the federal health care overhaul, said Wednesday that an online insurance marketplace the federal government set up for uninsured Kansas residents won't be able to provide affordable coverage without far more competition.

Kansas is one of 36 states where the federal government is setting up or supporting the online marketplace, known as an exchange, which aims to help uninsured residents find health care at reasonable prices. Data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows Kansans will have an average of 37 qualified health plans from which to choose, compared to an average of 53 for consumers in all 36 states.

The HHS report said a family of four in Kansas with a household income of $50,000 could face a monthly premium of $619 for a benchmark policy known as second-lowest-cost silver. But such families qualify for subsidies, which could lower the cost to $282 a month in all of the states.

A 27-year-old in Kansas resident could buy the lowest-cost plan to cover only catastrophic health care expenses for $87 a month, without a subsidy, according to the report.

Colyer said there are far cheaper rates available now from private online marketplaces. A search on one site showed 17 health plans from three companies, requiring participants to cover up to $5,000 a year in expenses, with lower premiums. One cost less than $41 a month.

"It's pretty obvious that the exchange is very expensive for Kansas," Colyer said.

Colyer said many Kansas consumers still will pay relatively high premiums for coverage on the exchange, particularly if they're young and healthy. Even with dozens of plans available on the exchange, they will be offered by one of only two companies in 82 of the state's 105 counties.

"We need a competitive marketplace," Colyer said during an interview. "You need a more vibrant market to do this."

Colyer and other critics worry that mandates in the 2010 federal law overhauling health care will not only mean expensive exchange plans but boost costs in plans offered outside exchanges, in turn limiting choices everywhere.

The Kansas Insurance Department has approved a total of 72 plans for sale on the exchange, according to a website it set up to help consumers. Commissioner Sandy Praeger said in a recent interview that the Kansans will find affordable rates, particularly because the 2010 federal law overhauling health care provides subsidies to lower their costs.

"I think people will be pleasantly surprised," she said. "And it's good coverage."

Colyer, a reconstructive plastic surgeon, has been the public face of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's administration on health care issues and has long been critical of the federal overhaul, the signature domestic policy initiative of President Barack Obama, a Democrat. Praeger is rare for a Kansas Republican in suggesting that the overhaul is an important step toward universal health coverage.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, the state's largest health insurer, will offer exchange plans for 103 counties, with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City offering plans for Johnson and Wyandotte counties Other plans will be offered across the state by at least one of two subsidiaries of Coventry Health Care Inc., based in Bethesda, Md.

Linda Sheppard, the Insurance Department's project manager for the health overhaul, said the companies must offer multiple plans at various levels of coverage — bronze, silver, gold and platinum — and compete with plans outside the exchange.

"They're offering a multitude of different plans because they know different things will appeal to different consumers," Sheppard said.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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