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September 30, 2013 Editorial

Patience required as Obamacare unfolds

Federal health care reform makes its big debut this week in Connecticut.

All eyes will be on Access Health CT, which is running the online marketplace allowing individuals and small businesses to shop for health insurance starting Oct. 1.

The exchange is mandated as part of the Affordable Care Act, which has been a political hot potato since its 2010 passage. While Obamacare has garnered intense opposition, everyone in Connecticut — particularly the business community — should hope the exchange succeeds.

Politics aside, the exchange concept is built around free market principles. In fact, President Obama once credited the conservative Heritage Foundation for developing the concept. And many firms, ranging from insurers to brokers and even individual corporations, are now setting up their own private exchanges to replicate the national model.

By forcing insurers to compete for business in an open market, and be more transparent on product pricing, the exchange will make it easier for small businesses and individuals to shop for insurance. Whether coverage will be affordable remains to be seen.

One legitimate criticism is that the federal government is overly regulating the exchange. For sure, strict requirements on the types of benefits that must be covered through health plans sold in the exchange will reduce the scope of choice and increase costs to individuals and businesses.

Still, exchanges are a good step in the right direction.

Exchange officials in recent weeks have tried to tamper down expectations, warning that they expect glitches and other problems to occur as the exchange opens for business this week. That's not surprising considering the complexities of starting a new online marketplace, and the short window (less than two years) the state was given to get it up and running.

Critics should not paint the exchange as a failure if problems occur in the coming weeks. The exchange is a long-term play, and needs to be judged that way.

Still, the state and federal government must also understand that exchanges are not the only answer to helping businesses and individuals find more affordable insurance coverage. It's simply a small piece of a larger puzzle.

The bigger task for Connecticut in the coming years is finding ways to control and reduce health care costs. It's a significant challenge considering the state's aging population, which will rely on medical care even more in the years to come. The consolidation of Connecticut hospitals won't help either as larger health care institutions gain greater bargaining power over insurers on reimbursement rates.

In recent months, high-level talks have been quietly going on about the future of health care in Connecticut. The state received a $2.8 million grant from the federal government over the summer to develop a plan to redesign Connecticut's entire health care system.

The initiative — led by the Malloy Administration — has several committees brainstorming ways to redesign care delivery and payment models, boost health information technology, and tackle workforce issues. It includes representatives from the state as well as insurance, provider, business, and other health care officials.

Their conclusions and recommendations could have a major impact on the health care industry. The public needs more information about their plans and ideas.

More importantly, their plans and ideas must achieve real results.

The future of a more affordable health care system depends on it.

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