In 2011 Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed an executive order to create the state’s Health Benefits Exchange, which will offer a selection of state-approved health insurance plans to enable individuals and small businesses to compare health plan options.  The Exchange was created as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which requires states to develop exchanges, participate in multi-state exchanges, or allow the federal government to step in and create an exchange for the state.  Exchanges are intended to facilitate the expansion of health insurance coverage contemplated by the ACA.  Rhode Island has opted to build its own Exchange rather than use the federal mechanism available under the ACA.  This past December the federal government granted Rhode Island conditional approval for its Exchange.

On February 28, Christine Ferguson, the director of Rhode Island’s Exchange, attended a meeting of small business and non-profit employers in the state to announce that the Exchange should contain “innovative” plan options, including those that may lower costs.  Ferguson also recently testified before the Rhode Island Senate Finance Committee that the Exchange would provide “a robust marketplace for all Rhode Islanders to identify health insurance coverage options and, for those eligible, to purchase coverage.”  State Insurance Commissioner Christopher Koller called the Exchange a “game changer” for small businesses.

Enrollment for all state exchanges is scheduled to begin in October 2013.