Driving on I-35 and around downtown, you may have noticed several billboards popping up, advertising a “KC Exchange.” It’s a reference to the health exchanges outlined in the Affordable Care Act, aimed at helping individuals and small businesses comparison shop for health plans.
These exchanges are supposed to be up and running in each state by 2014, but they’ve had a rough time taking hold in many states, including in Kansas and Missouri. This summer, for example, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback returned a $31.5 million federal grant that would lay the groundwork for one in the state. In Missouri, lawmakers are not likely to move forward with an exchange right now, either.
So, what’s with all the billboards?
As Minnesota Public Radio’s Elizabeth Stawicki reports, private health plans have been launching their own online insurance shopping sites ahead of the public version. Enter Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, which provides the lion’s share of individual and small group health coverage in this region, and its “Blue KC Exchange.”
Blue Cross' Ron Rowe said the goal is to get people used to dealing with an exchange and the company's products before there's additional competition from the public exchanges.
"Our thought is that at least today we're better off to develop a relationship with them, have them used to getting their service from us, feeling good about the service they get from us, developing some rapport, some trust," Rowe said.
Rowe said the hope is to develop some customer loyalty, so Blue Cross won't lose business to the public exchanges once they go online.
While companies like Blue Cross are trying to get customers used to the idea of an exchange, Stawicki also points out there are some marked differences between these private exchanges and those slated to be up in 2014:
But with many private exchanges, there's only so much choice. On the public exchanges, users will be able to choose among a variety of plans offered by different insurers who are competing for business.
Not so on some of the new private exchanges. They may offer plans from only one insurer — the one that's providing the exchange. That's the case with both My Plan by Medica and the Blue KC Exchange from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City.