HHS Re-Brands “Exchanges” as “Marketplaces”

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Yesterday’s inaugural festivities were equal parts breathtaking and distracting. In moments of celebration and national unity, it’s easy to forget that President Obama’s second term brings with it numerous challenges that will be difficult for the entire nation to navigate.

One of these challenges is healthcare reform, and apparently (but not unexpectedly), the administration is seeking to “re-brand” a “central component of its signature healthcare law,” The Hill’s Sam Baker reports. “The Health and Human Services Department suddenly stopped referring to insurance ‘exchanges’ this week, even as it heralded ongoing efforts to prod states into setting up their own. Instead, press materials and a website for the public referred to insurance ‘marketplaces’ in each state.”

To quote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, “Curiouser and curiouser!”

Or is it?

According to Baker, this re-branding is actually a strategic move after conservative activists like FreedomWorks launched “a determined push…to block state-based exchanges in hopes of crippling the federal implementation effort.” For example, one of the group’s initiatives against insurance exchanges was a website called blockexchanges.com.

HHS is hoping that a re-branding of insurance exchanges will explain the concept to people in a more effective way. However, FreedomWorks is claiming a victory against healthcare-reform proponents, seeing the re-branding  as “signs of desperation.”

FreedomWorks’ director of healthcare policy Dean Clancy said, “I think that it’s too late in the game to try to start calling this something different. And [we’re] not going to spend a lot of effort fighting over a word.”

Baker notes, “Nearly every Republican governor has rejected a state-based exchange, although some could end up working in partnership with the federal government. Even Republicans who had previously seemed open to the idea have since said they wouldn’t pursue their own exchanges, instead leaving the task up to HHS.”

No matter what kind of victory FreedomWorks see itself as having scored, the exchanges still exist even under a different name, and healthcare-reform supporters are saying that “marketplaces” is a better descriptive word for what the president is trying to accomplish.

Baker quotes a Democrat as saying, “It’s not that exchanges are unpopular, but there also isn’t broad awareness about what they are and what they will do for the people who will benefit from them across the country, so it makes sense to use a more descriptive name.”

Prior to the HHS name change, states were even devising their own labels for exchanges, such as “Cover California” or Massachusetts’ pre-federal healthcare reform “Connector.”

The source adds, “The fact is, both Democratic and Republican Governors across the country are building this infrastructure and open enrollment is only eight months away so it’s time to start raising awareness. Once people get used to having these marketplaces to increase competition and deliver tax credits, there’s no question they will be popular.”

What is your opinion on the insurance exchanges? Do you think they will prove worthwhile in the long run? Do you think a name change was necessary? How has your state responded to the concept?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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