Health insurance startup joins Georgia and Illinois market in flux.
Ameet Sachdev, Reporter, Chicago Tribune
OCTOBER 18, 2015 – Chicago-area residents who buy health plans on the federal online insurance marketplace will see some new options for 2016 that are a sign of where health care is headed.
Insurance startup Harken Health will launch in Cook County on Nov. 1, when the Affordable Care Act’s third open enrollment season begins, company executives told the Tribune in an exclusive interview. Harken will combine an insurance plan with its own medical clinics in a kind of holistic system that President Barack Obama’s health care law encourages.
Harken’s entry comes at a time of upheaval in the Illinois individual marketplace. Assurant Health, which was new to the Illinois health insurance exchange this year, is shutting down its financially troubled insurance business and will not sell plans during open enrollment. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, the state’s largest health insurer, is eliminating its popular individual plan that had the largest network of doctors and hospitals. Blue Cross said on its website that it plans to announce details about a new product for the Chicago area later this month.
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Harken is a symbol of the changes. The company is an independently operated subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, the nation’s largest health insurer. UnitedHealth has taken a cautious approach to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. It did not participate in the first year of the Illinois exchange in 2014 and this year offered individual plans only in Cook County. A company spokesman said UnitedHealth will offer plans in more Illinois counties in 2016 but declined further comment.
Plans and pricing for 2016 are expected to be available as early as Sunday on Healthcare.gov for consumers to begin window shopping.
“There’s major flux in the market,” said Bill Hallberg, chief enrollment officer at ACAenroll.com. “Carriers are reshuffling the decks on their offerings in order to reach some form of profitability.”
In 2014, UnitedHealth put together a small group of employees, led by Tom Vanderheyden, vice president of business development and innovation, to come up with something new. Acknowledging the frustration of consumers over the complexity of insurance, Vanderheyden said the group looked outside the industry at companies known for good customer service. For example, he looked to the simplicity of the menu at the Chipotle restaurant in rethinking how an insurance company should design a plan.
“I don’t know what coinsurance means,” said Vanderheyden, Harken’s CEO. “I don’t want to know what coinsurance means because 99 percent of people on the planet don’t and ideally shouldn’t.”
To keep it simple, Harken’s plans will have no coinsurance, the coverage that usually kicks in after the deductible has been met. Members’ copays will be limited to prescription drugs. Otherwise, members will receive unlimited, free primary care visits.