Five keys to writing a successful qualified health plan application

As we draw closer to 2014 and full implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), many healthcare companies are evaluating how their existing capabilities translate into a post-reform environment. Some find that implementation of an exchange product would be a simple addition to a product portfolio, while others are building operational infrastructure specifically to support the exchange. Two previous posts described critical factors for success and common gaps. In this article, we focus on the qualified health plan (QHP) application itself.

Applications to join healthcare exchanges vary by market and type of exchange in a state. While there is a large volume of application activity taking place now for pioneers in the exchange market, other players will likely take part in later application opportunities in the years to come.

States were given a choice to either develop their own programs or elect to participate in a federally sponsored program. State programs are administered many different ways. Approaches range from conducting a standard product filing approach where all licensed health plans are accepted, to administering a competitive proposal process where only a subset of applicants are accepted.

Regardless of the approach in your market, these top five application response principles and project management practices can be applied.

1. Understand requirements. In order to obtain QHP status, proposed plan designs must include essential health benefits (EHBs) prescribed by the federal government. Additionally, depending on market location, some plans can operate their exchange business under existing licensure, while others must file for licensure specific to the exchange. It is critical to first understand market-specific requirements and then understand what is required in the application response. The response may be data- and price-driven, or may include more detailed requests for information about operational, technical, product, network, and price factors. Technical response format requirements can also vary.

2. Develop a work group. Gather a team of subject matter experts (SMEs) that can both provide support to the application response process and stay engaged through implementation of the exchange product. SMEs may include consultants who are well versed in implementing business in new market segments.

3. Determine accountability by requirement. Assign ownership early in the process so that team members are best positioned to support a quality response. One good way for managing work assignments is to develop a work assignment matrix that captures all requirements and assignments. The matrix can also serve as a checklist for application completeness.

4. Set rigorous draft response timelines. The subject matter and content contained in a QHP solicitation or application will be new territory for even the most experienced health plan. Giving SMEs an aggressive timeline to provide draft responses provides stakeholders more time to react to the ideas of the team as well as more time to refine and perfect responses.

5. Provide guidelines for response content. It is a fair assumption that many content writers who are providing input to an exchange application have not participated in a similar work effort in the past. In that case, it is a good idea to provide guidance regarding critical areas contributing to the completeness and quality of content. Examples of response content guidelines include:

• Accuracy: The question was answered and the response is free of ambiguity.
• Completeness: If the question is yes/no, the answer has gone beyond a yes/no response. If there are multiple questions, all points have been addressed.
• Audience focus: The answer does not contain internal jargon or acronyms.
• Solution focus: The customer’s needs have been considered in the response.
• Verifiability: If the response requires attestation, evidence is demonstrated to support it.