Study offers context for reporting on health insurance exchanges

The first tip sheet I wrote about covering health reform was pegged to the one-year mark of the Affordable Care Act. One topic I addressed was the creation of state-based health insurance exchanges, or marketplaces.  I won’t rehash that here – here’s the link to the brief – but I do want to point out a useful resource that became available just a few days after we posted that first guide.

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Joanne KenenJoanne Kenen is AHCJ’s health reform topic leader. She is writing blog posts, tip sheets, articles and gathering resources to help our members cover the complex implementation of health reform. If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to

It’s an in-depth look at the two states that already do have exchanges – Utah and Massachusetts.  Those states help  illustrate the decisions, both practical and ideological,  legislators and governors must make  as to how active the exchange is going to be in shaping the local insurance market and the consumer experience.

Those exchanges are of course dramatically different – Massachusetts covers a couple of hundred thousand people, and Utah covers a couple of thousand.  Massachusetts was the inspiration in many ways for the national health reform, while Utah is the model for states that want to do a lot less and rely a lot more on the free market.  But the study by experts at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute and the Center for Children and Families also found those two state exchanges also had a lot more overlap than is widely assumed.

For those of you who are writing your first story on exchanges, this report isn’t the place to start. For help with the basics, check out ideas from Sarah Kliff, a Politico health care reporter, and some background from Noam Levey, health policy reporter for the Los Angeles Times. And the Alliance for Health Reform had an event last year that explained the basics (this link includes a webcast, transcript and lots of other resources to help you get started.)

For those reporters who have been tracking the state debate over the size, shape and structure of the exchange, or following the initial phases of implementing the exchange, the Georgetown study should help provide some context for concepts that you may have heard of like “active purchaser” (an exchange that can be more discriminating about which insurers get to sell policies in the exchange and which don’t versus an “open market” (open to any health plan that wants to play.)  Here’s a taste:

To many, the Massachusetts and Utah exchanges represent opposite points on a continuum of what exchanges can provide for consumers and small businesses. Yet the stereotype of Massachusetts’ exchange as an “active purchaser” and the Utah Exchange as the open market model is, in the words of one observer, “a false stereotype … perpetuated by … a media that likes simple contrasts.”

So be part of a media that goes beyond simplistic contrasts … dig in.

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  1. Pingback: Health reform: Another poll, another confused public : Covering Health

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