Just today Walgreen's became the latest big employer to send its workers shopping for their health insurance, instead of providing choices for them. The company will give workers money to help pay the cost of premiums, but it will be up to workers to find private health insurance on their own. It's been happening more often lately as companies try to comply with the Affordable Care Act.
Open enrollment for those who aren't covered by a company-sponsored plan, Medicare or Medicaid, starts in two weeks. But the work behind the scenes by insurance companies has been going on for a couple of years.
Kirk Zimmer of DAKOTACARE has been in the health insurance business for nearly 30 years. But the last 30 months have brought about the most sweeping changes as the Affordable Care Act basically standardizes insurance policies.
"Only in the last week or two were any plans notified that they had in fact been finally certified by the federal government for offering in the exchange and then signed contracts to do so," Zimmer said.
DAKOTACARE is one of three insurance providers, along with Avera and Sanford, that will be offering plans on the Marketplace Exchange in the state. DAKOTACARE will offer 19 different plans on the individual exchange.
"19 sounds like a lot to offer in the exchange, but prior to the exchange our individual policies, DAKOTACARE One policies, we had hundreds of different plans," Zimmer said.
What does that mean for the consumer? Plans are now more comparable and must cover the same essential health benefits. But insurance providers will still be in competition with one another.
"Make insurers compete on quality of service and price and I think a large part of the consumer psyche as I am going forward on the exchanges is I want to make sure I'm buying a policy that meets my needs. There still can be limitations in the network," Zimmer said.
Though DAKOTACARE's plans have been approved, the rates are still a secret until open enrollment begins October First.
"They're still working on it. I'd like to think it will be ready October first, we'll see," Zimmer said.
Open enrollment goes through March 31st and no one can be denied coverage in that time period. However, DAKOTACARE warns that if you apply outside of the open enrollment period, you could be turned down for coverage.