Wellmark's Hesitance Could Jeopardize Iowa Health Insurance Exchange

Wellmark, Iowa's primary health insurer, is unsure whether it will participate in the state's planned health insurance exchange, a move that could jeopardize the initiative, according to a Des Moines Register report.

Under healthcare reform, states must set up health insurance exchanges by Jan. 2014 or invite the federal government to intervene. Supporters say the exchanges will help small businesses and individuals compare and buy affordable policies, driving down insurance costs by creating competition among payors.

According to the report, John Forsyth, chairman of Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield, said in an interview that the company has not decided whether to offer coverage through Iowa's planned exchange. Wellmark provides 75 percent of policies to Iowa individual consumers and small businesses.

Mr. Forsyth said the company is unsure what to expect from an exchange, including the costs that Wellmark would incur covering healthcare for new members. He said the company's policyholders, who own the company, might be opposed to Wellmark's participation in the exchange if it meant losing a significant amount of money.

Insurance experts say Wellmark's participation would benefit the exchange. Wellmark has powerful leverage to negotiate lower prices for care given its huge market share in the state.

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