Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

October 17, 2013

Exchanges get mixed reviews

NEW YORK (AP) — More small businesses than expected are signing up for health insurance on state exchanges that opened this month.

The exchanges, which began operating Oct. 1 under the new health care law, are designed to offer low-cost insurance for individuals and small businesses. Many business owners have been pleasantly surprised by the rates and coverage, according to accounts from owners and exchange officials. But some owners are disappointed and plan to buy insurance privately.

A spot check of exchanges across the U.S. shows the number of companies that have opened accounts on any state exchange so far tends to be in the hundreds. Officials note it’s still early in the process given that policies sold on the exchanges won’t take effect until Jan. 1.

New York, Minnesota and Vermont officials say small business enrollments have surpassed expectations. But signup rates differ widely partly because of the way the exchanges and plans are set up. In Maryland, the small business exchange won’t open until Jan. 1. In Washington state, the small business exchange exists in only two of 39 counties. Insurers aren’t offering coverage elsewhere because most employers have private insurance plans or get their coverage through trade groups, says Michael Marchand, a spokesman for the exchange.

But even in states where small business exchanges aren’t open, there’s plenty of interest. Oregon’s exchange won’t open until early November, but more than 16,000 people have visited sections of the website that detail coverage for small companies.

In Minnesota, about 350 small businesses created accounts on the state’s exchange as of Tuesday morning.

“That’s more than we thought we would have,” says April Todd-Malmlov, executive director of the state’s exchange.

“I thought we’d just have a lot of lookers.”

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