Report recommended against state-run health exchange

A think tank has unearthed a consultant's report from five years ago that said Rhode Island would be better off joining the federal health care insurance exchange.

Rhode Island lawmakers are now debating whether to pick up the cost of Healthsource RI -- the state's health care exchange -- in coming years.

The 2009 report, by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said Rhode Island would be foolish to open its own health care exchange.

Mike Stenhouse from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity said it raises an important question.

"When they were told five years ago the limitations of an exchange in terms of cost containment ... Yet they continued to tout the same benefit or deny those realities. Whose agenda are they really promoting?" Stenhouse said.

Stenhouse said the state could get the same services from the federal exchange for free, so why spend the money on its own?

Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, who received the report five years ago, said the state, first of all, could not get the services for free.

"The federal government will send us a bill, and it's not a negotiable bill," Roberts said.

She said what Rhode Islanders can get from their health exchange is better than what the federal government is offering.

"We are for the first time going to have a health insurance policy that's cheaper this year than last year," Roberts said.

Stenhouse said the report suggested Rhode Island cannot control costs like it would choose to, and that there's little in the exchange that the federal site can't offer.

But Roberts defended what's been done to date.

"We need to decide what we want it to do and how we want it to serve people going forward. I want us to make that decision right here in Rhode Island," Roberts said.

There would be no costs to Rhode Island in the budget under consideration.

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