Would a state health insurance exchange by any other name sound as sweet?
That's just one of the puzzlers the folks charged with readying the state-based marketplaces have been wrestling with since President Barack Obama's landmark health care reform law survived its U.S. Supreme Court challenge last summer.
The exchanges -- which will meant to be easy-to-use online portals to affordable health insurance plans primarily for small businesses, the self-employed and those ineligible for Medicaid and Medicare -- are scheduled to open in January 2014, with early enrollment expected to begin in October.
Only about a third of U.S. states have submitted plans to run their own exchanges; the rest will be run either by or in partnership with the federal government. The Obama administration has just given states more time to get on board.
Marketing consultants have been racking up the billable hours trying to figure out how to make these as-yet-unseen exchanges seem warm and fuzzy to consumers after no small army (including 26 states) essentially spent two years dragging the concept through the mud.
Apparently the image problem begins with the word "exchange" itself. According to a Wall Street Journal story, one consultant found that the word "raises some suspicions of loopholes and fine print" and "implies current coverage may need to be traded for something else." Say "exchanges" and most people think either the New York Stock Exchange or military base exchanges, neither of which generates much consumer love these days.
Nor do states have many precedents to work from. Only one state -- Massachusetts -- has set up anything similar to help insure its residents. What's the Massachusetts exchange called? The Health Connector. I know: I thought of Kermit, too.
Actually, it's not a bad name, and it eliminates that negative perception that you'll have to pony up or exchange something for your health insurance, which of course you will in most cases. But again, we're talking perceptions here, not fine print. Hawaii ("Hawaii Health Connector") and Maryland ("Maryland Health Connection") have already hopped on the connection train.
Variations of "health" and "choice" are being consumer-tested in states such as Washington ("HealthChoice," Healthplanfinder") and Minnesota ("Health Choices"). Other states are looking to do a little co-branding, including California ("Covered California"), Nevada ("Silver State Health Insurance Exchange"), Oregon ("Cover Oregon") and Vermont ("Green Mountain Care").
Whatever states wind up calling the new marketplaces, I'm fairly certain of what the estimated 25 million Americans who could find affordable health insurance for the first time will call the the new health exchanges: a godsend.
Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus
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