State insurance exchanges are intended to make it easier for consumers to compare health plans, Nebraska's top insurance official said Tuesday.
“The goal is to simplify things,'' said Bruce Ramge, director of the Nebraska Department of Insurance.
He made the comments during a public forum in Omaha on Nebraska's plans for setting up an exchange as part of the new federal health care law.
An exchange must be in place by 2014 and is intended to be a way to purchase health insurance at competitive prices online, by phone or in person.
A state can operate an exchange on its own, operate one with a group of states or allow the federal government to run it. Nebraska has not yet determined who will run its exchange.
An insurance company official and others told Ramge that it would be best for Nebraska to run its own exchange.
Michaela Valentin of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska said insurance companies already have a good working relationship with the Department of Insurance. She also said the department has a good understanding of the insurance market in Nebraska and the needs of consumers.
The Department of Insurance will complete a study by late summer that will go to the governor and the Legislature. The resulting report will contain either recommendations, or the pros and cons, on different ways of running the insurance exchange.
Several people said during the forum that it will be important to have local insurance agents involved in the exchange because they will be able to help consumers pick the best plans.
There were also comments about the high cost a consumer now faces when purchasing insurance as an individual, rather than receiving coverage through a group plan at work.
The goal is for insurance through the exchanges to be more affordable than what people can purchase on their own.
Income-based federal subsidies for lower- and middle-income people will be available to purchase coverage.
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