Private Marketplaces Offer Healthcare Alternatives

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce rolled out a new healthcare marketplace of its own Friday, advertising it as functional, flexible and user-friendly.

"The Michigan Marketplace needs some alternatives for the consumer to really shop for their alternatives and drive down their healthcare cost," said Jason Russell, senior director of Michigan Chamber Services. "The Michigan Chamber's goal is to create a consumer-driven marketplace to do just that."

The plans offered on the new website don't have to conform to as many strict federal guidelines, allowing for more flexibility in what can be offered. The Chamber site will be able to provide dental plans and other services too.

"Our goal, and the Michigan Chamber's goal, is to promote a consumer-driven, market-friendly full transparent health insurance marketplace so individuals and families in the state of Michigan can really make the best decision for themselves," said Russell. "Whether that's through the public exchange or through the private insurance exchange."

But the people who helped set up Michigan's federal exchange say people need to be careful about signing up for a site, even if it is sailing smoother than the glitch-prone federal site.

"Yes, you may experience a shorter time in actually buying a product, but are you actually buying a product that's best for you and your family?" said Brett Williams, a regional coordinator at Michigan Consumers for Healthcare. "If you go to websites with only two or three or four people entering, then you're not going to have a slow response time whereas if you have a site that has millions of people needing a product, you could experience some delays and that shows how in need was."

Williams says there are plenty of other advantages to buying off the federal exchange. For one, he says, it's the only site where users can compare such a large quantity of plans side-by-side.

For another, the federal site is forbidden from housing any conflicts of interest, which may not be the case in private marketplaces.

"If you have a conflict of interest, hypothetically that company is going to show you what they have to offer," Williams said. "They're most likely not going to show you what other companies have to offer. That may be a far better product at a lesser cost."

Still another advantage, Williams says, is the availability of subsidies and tax credits, which can only be applied to plans on the federal exchange.

But the Chamber of Commerce says few people are actually eligible for such subsidies. Those that aren't will be their largest group of customers.

Both groups agree though, it's important to do your homework and shop around before buying anything. Jason Russell at the Chamber of Commerce says it's a good idea to check out the federal site first before making your way to the Chamber's site.

"Calculate what your subsidies will be for you through the federal exchange," he said. "But don't rule out the possibility that the private exchange may be the best alternative for you not only in terms of coverage, but in terms of monthly premiums."

A company called SASid is in charge of managing the Chamber's website. The Wisconsin-based company works with insurance groups and manages other websites across the country.

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