Lynchburg The News & Advance: Bills to Create Health-Care Exchanges Halted Print


Created:  Wednesday, February 1, 2012

RICHMOND — Legislators and insurance lobbyists urged a House of Delegates committee to approve a bill Tuesday that would create a health-care exchange to comply with federal law, but the panel decided to wait.

If the U.S. Supreme Court were to uphold the federal health-care law in June, it's possible the General Assembly may have a special summer session in Richmond to create the exchange.

"That's a possibility," said Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, chairman of the Commerce and Labor subcommittee, which heard bills sponsored by Del. Kathy Byron, R-Campbell County, and Democratic Dels. Patrick Hope of Arlington and Jennifer McClellan of Richmond.

Hope told the legislators the federal Department of Health and Human Services wants Virginia to have a health-exchange plan in place by Jan. 1, 2013. It would go into operation one year later.

But Bill Hazel, Virginia's secretary of Health and Human Resources, said the federal regulations haven't been written yet to say how the exchanges should be designed, or what insurance protections they will provide.

"This is clearly an unsettled issue, and ... I cannot recommend that we go ahead with an exchange," Hazel said.

"There are many considerations here that are not yet ripe for a decision," Hazel said, and passing a law now to set up an exchange "would likely slow up our preparations as opposed to speeding them up."

Hazel said his department is making plans to set up an exchange, and assumes one will be needed. What won't be clear, until the Supreme Court rules, is how many people will enroll in it, Hazel said.

Byron said she was proposing the legislation solely because she felt Virginia should be in control of its own plan, if one must be adopted.

Byron said she opposes the federal health-care mandate, which most Republicans call Obamacare, and she supports the legal fight against it that was mounted by Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Del. Terry Kilgore, a committee member, said lawmakers likely will set a health-care exchange at some point.

Several insurance-industry lobbyists told the subcommittee that they would like to see an exchange created, and several of them said they liked Byron's bill because it calls for the exchange to be overseen by the State Corporation Commission.

Other lobbyists said they preferred Hope's bill, which would allow the exchange to be overseen by an independent body that could bring in outside experts, some of them favored by insurance companies.

Ware and Kilgore both said they were comfortable with having SCC oversight of an exchange, but they hadn't made a decision yet.