- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Four business organizations in Rhode Island are calling for future operations of the state-run health insurance marketplace to be funded only by those who use it and not through widely imposed taxes or fees.

It would be unacceptable to pass on the costs to run HealthSource RI to all businesses either directly or indirectly, said a statement this week from the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, the Rhode Island Business Group on Health, the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association and the state affiliate of the National Federation of Independent Business.

The groups oppose a fee on all insurance carriers or health plan purchasers as well as an assessment on all claims paid in the state.

The groups sent the statement to the General Assembly leadership and rank-and-file, Gov. Lincoln Chafee and the HealthSource RI board and director, Christine Ferguson.

Chafee’s budget blueprint for next year includes no state money for HealthSource RI; all of the $23 million in proposed spending is federal money. The administration is assuming it will get an extension to use federal funds through the first half of 2015, the year the state-run marketplaces are supposed to be self-sufficient.

Rhode Island has been allocated more than $80 million to build and initially operate HealthSource RI.

Director of Administration Richard Licht said recently there is currently no plan to recommend a way to pay for the marketplace down the line - after Chafee leaves office next year - because it’s so new and “we don’t have enough experience.”

The estimated annual cost to run HealthSource RI is between $17.9 million and $23.9 million, Ferguson told lawmakers last fall.

“Every time we try to determine how is this going to be funded, there really is no answer,” said Donald Nokes, a small businessman who is board president of the Rhode Island Business Group on Health and a former vice chairman of HealthSource RI’s board. “We’re concerned that they may start to float the idea that this is such a valuable thing, let’s everybody pay for it.”

Asked this week about possible funding sources, HealthSource spokeswoman Dara Chadwick said: “As Director Ferguson has been saying, future structure and funding models for HealthSource RI will be an important conversation between members of the General Assembly, leadership and other stakeholders during this legislative session.”

Greg Pare, a spokesman for Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, said Friday that she is sensitive to the business groups’ concerns and noted that the administration has not yet put forward a plan.

House Speaker Gordon Fox said through a spokesman that the Finance Committee has been raising concerns on the “structure and sustainability” of the marketplace since last year.

“The committee will continue its scrutiny of that operation and the future funding options,” he said.

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