Sessions find common ground on health exchanges

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A series of community dialogue sessions on health care exchanges found the more people understood, the more people thought their families might benefit.
“We saw a pretty big shift in attitude,” said Isabella Furth, special projects manager from Viewpoint Learning, which worked with the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program to conduct sessions in Tupelo, Biloxi, Jackson and Greenville in March and April. The organizations were in Tupelo on Wednesday to share their findings at the Link Centre.
At the beginning of the dialogue sessions, only a third of people thought their families would benefit from health care reform; at the end of the day, that grew to 52 percent and included people who identified themselves as liberals, conservatives and moderates.
Nearly 160 randomly selected Mississippians from around the state participated in the eight-hour sessions, which were designed to provide information and help people find common ground. In small groups, the participants worked through pros and cons on health exchanges and how they should be set up.
“This wasn’t ‘Here’s a great law and why you should love it,’” said Heidi Gantwerk, Viewpoint Learning vice president. “In all four rooms, there were still people who felt it should be repealed (at the end of the day).”
At the beginning of the dialogue sessions, few people considered themselves well-informed about health care reform and only five had even heard of health care insurance exchanges, Furth said.
“It didn’t matter if they thought the law was a good idea or not,” said Furth, but people were about get up to speed fairly quickly during the sessions.
Health care exchanges are central hubs where health insurance plans can be compared side by side and purchased.
It allows for a range of coverage options. Companies would compete on service, price and networks.
“It’s a market-driven approach,” said Corey Wiggins of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program.
Mississippi Insurance Department has been proactive in creating an exchange in the state.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney has said it was important for the state to create its own exchange instead of having one imposed by the federal government.
“It’s been very transparent,” said Wiggins, noting the advisory board is a diverse group. The Mississippi model draws heavily from a successful exchange created in Utah.
During dialogue sessions, there were a number of areas of common ground.
The participants thought it was important that the exchanges were open to individuals shopping for health insurance.
They wanted a broad range of choices to address the broadest range of needs and budgets.
There was great distrust of federal and state government, as well as insurance companies. Participants felt the exchanges should be overseen by a public-private partnership and include significant oversight.
“Because of the level of mistrust, they felt very strongly about oversight,” Furth said.
They saw a big role for trained, certified navigators who would help people shift through the choices in a health care exchange.
michaela.morris@journalinc.com