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Roanoke Times: Va. Democrats Push to Enact Part of Obama Health Care Plan Print


Created:  Thursday, January 12, 2012

RICHMOND — Democrats in the House of Delegates said Wednesday they will push for creation of a state-run health insurance exchange during the upcoming General Assembly session, and voiced hope that Republicans will get on board with implementing a component of the federal health care overhaul.

The exchange would create a database for individuals and small businesses to shop for insurance coverage. The federal health care law calls for exchanges to be operational by 2013 and for coverage to begin in 2014. States have the authority to design their own exchanges with federal funds, but the federal government will establish them in states that don't set up their own.

Gov. Bob McDonnell's administration indicated last month that it will not ask lawmakers to authorize an exchange during this legislative session. Administration officials said uncertainty about key elements of the federal health care law — including a constitutional challenge to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court — could affect how a state exchange is designed.

But some legislators, including a key Republican committee chairman, want to press ahead in this legislative session to make sure the state has control of its own exchange. Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, the chairman of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, said last month that he will introduce a "placeholder" bill to get the process moving. Others argue the General Assembly should wait and act only if the Affordable Care Act survives in the courts.

House Democrats held a news conference Wednesday to announce plans to introduce their own legislation. Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, noted that McDonnell's Virginia Health Reform Initiative recommended that Virginia create its own exchange.

"If we have an exchange, we would much rather have one that is controlled by Virginia and not by the federal government," McClellan said.

Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington County, who served on the governor's health reform panel, said the legislation will mirror the panel's recommendations.

"The most important reason to create an insurance marketplace has little to do with politics or the Affordable Care Act," Hope said. "It will allow small businesses and individuals the opportunity to leverage similar to or even greater resources than that of large employers, using that clout to drive better pricing, choices and quality. And for that, we should do this regardless of how you feel about health care reform or its outcome at the U.S. Supreme Court."

Democrats have just 32 votes in the House, and will need support from Republicans who also want to act in this session.