At a Business Journal panel on Thursday, state officials defended the timeline for implementing the California Health Benefit Exchange under the federal health reform law, the Sacramento Business Journal reports (Robertson, Sacramento Business Journal, 8/2).
The federal health reform law requires states to launch online insurance marketplaces by 2014.
The California Health Benefit Exchange primarily will serve individuals and small businesses.
Supporters hope that the exchange will function similar to websites like Amazon.com and Expedia.com so that users will be able to choose between various health plans through an easily navigable online store.
An estimated 4.4 million California residents are expected to use the exchange by the end of 2016.
Officials plan to open registration for the exchange in October 2013 (California Healthline, 8/1).
According to the Business Journal, it is unclear at this stage exactly how the exchange will function, who will participate in it and whether health insurers and health care providers will benefit from participating.
The National Federation for Independent Business -- which took part in a lawsuit opposing the reform law because it opposes the individual mandate -- supports the idea of a health insurance exchange but is concerned about the logistics of implementing one.
NFIB said, "The federal government is missing deadline after deadline. We are concerned [about whether the California exchange] will be implemented in the right way."
Gary Cohen, general counsel for the California exchange, said that the exchange "[a]bsolutely" will be ready on time.
He said, "We were the first state in the nation to pass legislation to create an exchange."
Cohen added that the exchange has "hit two significant milestones." He noted, "We received a $39 million initial grant and, at the end of June, submitted an application for $196 million more. We expect a decision this month."
According to the Business Journal, the success of the exchange will depend in part on health plans choosing to participate in it.
Cohen said, "We're counting on health plans" to participate, and "when we say to them we have a couple of million new customers and we'll subsidize them to buy your product," the plans likely will consider the offer "pretty attractive."
In addition, the state must launch a campaign to educate the public about the exchange, according to the Business Journal.
Cohen said that the state is making decisions about a group of "navigators" who will help direct patients to health plans and help them make choices about their coverage (Sacramento Business Journal, 8/2).