The Clock is Ticking for Public Health Insurance Exchanges

SEP 9

The success of Obamacare relies entirely on every state having a health insurance exchange as mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) up and running no later January 1, 2014.

By early 2013, the federal government (via Health and Human Services (HHS)) will make a determination as to each state’s readiness to bring their health insurance exchange online. Lack of readiness by the January 1, 2014 deadline means HHS will take over the implementation and operation of each exchange.

The clock is ticking…

We are following closely the progress that is being made by the states are convinced that only a handful will be ready by the deadline.   Moreover, we question whether HHS will be able to step in and offer their working version of an exchange either, or if that federal exchange will even be legally able to offer subsidized policies.

While we are not prepared to unilaterally conclude that ACA’s exchange deadline won’t be met by any state, a former HHS secretary is equally skeptical.

We want exchanges to succeed and believe they ultimately will (in some form).  Our reviews of the exchange initiatives have included studying the Early Innovator grants and interviewing state policy administrators and vendors selling into the exchange concept.  The amount of work that will need to be done in order to get the public exchanges stood up by 2014 is daunting.

TripleTree’s recent report on exchanges, HIX: An assessment of the complexities and opportunities emanating from the ACA’s public health insurance exchange conceptintroduces these challenges and some innovative solutions that could emerge as part of the solutions.  Since then however, the planning, procurement and testing are in the early innings; and operational integration is far from reality.   Unfortunately very few states have a demonstrated ability to pull off the kind of implementation prowess needed to come online, on time.

Putting politics and policy aside, there are at least three major challenges that each state will need to overcome (quickly) if the public exchanges have any chance of meeting the 2014 deadline:

  1. States need more clarity on what they are building even though many states have RFPs out for technology and have drafted high level architectures.  There is universal uncertainty and lack of guidance from HHS on major issues such as to exactly how payments and subsidies will be processed  or how the carriers will integrate their workflow into the exchanges
  2. States lack successful architectural models and commercially proven technical capabilities because there is no working model of an exchange. Those charged with building the models – the Early Innovator grantees – are far from ready, or have dropped out of the program and/or returned their remaining funds.  The often cited Massachusetts and Utah models fall short of the ACA requirements (as do the Medicare exchanges).   And no vendor has a turnkey solution.
  3. States need more time – Given the massive scale and complexity of the exchanges and the integration that needs to be done with existing state and federal systems, it will be next to impossible to build an automated exchange as envisioned by the ACA in the next 16 months.


In our report, we also introduced the notion of private entities that may have the acumen and motivation to bring an insurance exchange online by the 2014 deadline.  We speculated that the private exchanges would start to roll-out in the second half of 2011 and even identified some of the likely players that would have compelling capabilities to drive the private exchange concept.

Our research asserted the real opportunities for the private sector to capitalize on the HIX mandate through a market-aligned solution that will have more impact to improve health insurance access than the federal mandates.  We are excited to see and will continue to watch the early launches of the private exchanges and believe the states and public HIX will benefit from modeling their efforts and approaches around the early successes from the private exchanges.

Let us know what you think.

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Scott Donahue