Does the new D.C. restaurant health exchange have the insurer backing it claims? Apparently not.

Jul 14, 2014, 2:59pm EDT Updated: Jul 14, 2014, 3:15pm EDT

Does the new D.C. restaurant health exchange have the insurer backing it claims? Apparently not.

Alisia Kleinmann, who spent years working in and around the restaurant industry, has founded industree, a networking opportunity for local food and beverage entrepreneurs.

Tina Reed

Staff Reporter- Washington Business Journal

When the Industree Exchange, a new health marketplace for restaurants with more than 100 full-time employees, went public last week, it said multiple affordable options would be available from major players like Aetna, Cigna and United Healthcare along with "skinny" bare-bones plans provided by Loomis.

But that caught some insurers by surprise. Namely Aetna, Cigna and United Healthcare.

In the days since the announcement, all three carriers told me they have nothing to do with the exchange and didn’t know anything about it until it was reported in local media.

What gives?

An Industree spokeswoman suggested the insurers were mistaken; they likely didn’t realize the exchange was set up in partnership with M&T Insurance Inc., using technology from Liazon to operate the exchange. M&T Insurance and Liazon footed the bill.

M&T offered a similar explanation, saying insurance companies are often so massive that one department may not realize what folks in another department are working on. The back and forth lasted much of last week.

When I circled back around Monday, I was told by M&T it was actually only Loomis and United Healthcare that were offering plans on the private exchange, with plans to include Aetna and Cigna later. United Healthcare responded again, saying it’s not offering a plan on the exchange.

That prompted Kevin Gannon, vice president of group benefits for M&T Insurance, to try to move beyond the providers, saying the private exchange is not just about the insurance plans. "It goes beyond the products," he said.

The system set up by Liazon offers online features for employees to choose the plan that works best for them using money provided to them by their employers. It handles all of the administrative work for those employers, and Industree hopes it fills a void in an industry that traditionally hasn’t offered great coverage, running on tight margins with armies of back-of-house staff.

Could it be a disappointing development in what some larger restaurant groups saw as a more affordable option to offering employees health insurance? Or is it just another example of how complex the world of health insurance really is?

Industree founder Alisia Kleinmann said she doesn’t understand the reason for the discrepancy, but said she’d received interest from plenty of carriers to offer plans on the exchange in the D.C. market.

"I’m 100 percent confident restaurants will be able to get full coverage for their employees," Kleinmann said. "If not through United, Aetna or Cigna, it will be another major carrier. And we will continue to offer those plans in other markets."

Tina Reed covers health care.

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