PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The company that won a $24 million contract to operate the Rhode Island health benefits exchange’s customer service center is an affiliate of a company that is selling plans on the exchange.
Rhode Island officials say there are built-in protections to prevent conflicts of interests.
Florida-based Connextions got an 18-month contract to manage a call center in Providence that will help individuals and small businesses shop for insurance on the new state-run exchange, a part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) federal health care overhaul.
Connextions is a subsidiary of Optum, whose parent is UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH).
UnitedHealth’s UnitedHealthcare division is offering plans on the exchange.
Connextions provided the state with a plan for addressing potential conflicts, including “impaired objectivity,” or the possibility that call center employees could steer consumers or companies to health plans offered by United. It also addressed its access to non-public customer information that could provide — or be seen as providing — United with an unfair advantage in competing for future contracts.
Christine Ferguson, director of the exchange, known as HealthSource RI, said earlier this week there are information barriers “all over the place” between Connextions and UnitedHealthcare. She also said the awarding of the call center contract to Connextions was not tied to United’s agreement to participate in the exchange.
Exchange attorney Sam Salganik said Friday that Connextions has a strong business track record and that the state has protections built into the contract that allow it to take action against the company if it even perceives a conflict.
“We have a lot of checks and balances in place,” Salganik said in an interview. “The key here is they are a professional company and their reputation is really important to them.”