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House Dems push for state health benefits exchange

Health InsuranceJustice SystemBusinessDemocratic Party

– Despite a pending U.S. Supreme Courtbattle over the federal health care law, Democrats in the House of Delegates want to create a health insurance benefits exchange as the law requires.

House Minority Leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, said regardless of whether the Supreme Court tosses President Obama's controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a health benefits exchange would benefit the state by offering more competition, choices and lower costs for individuals and small businesses.

If the court upholds the federal law, creating the exchange keeps the state on track to have it up and running by January 2014 as the law requires.

"It's going to allow Virginia to maintain control over how these exchanges get set up, how these marketplaces get set up, and prevent the federal government from imposing its own exchange for Virginia," Toscano said Tuesday, a day before the General Assembly begins its 2012 session.

A number of federal appeals courts have issued different opinions on the constitutionality of provisions of the health care law, including one brought by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on behalf of the commonwealth. The Supreme Court decided to hear a representative case in March and is expected to deliver its decision in July.

That creates a bit of a snafu for states like Virginia in developing their own health exchanges – which will act as a clearinghouse for individuals and small businesses to purchase health insurance benefits from a variety of providers.

In order to receive federal funding to set up and maintain a health benefits exchange for the first year - 2014 – Virginia must submit a plan for a working exchange to the federal Department of Health and Human Services by June.

If it misses the deadline and the Supreme Court upholds the law, Virginia will have to pay for start up costs on its own. Starting in 2015, under the federal law, the exchange must be self-funded.

Dels. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, and Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, plan to introduce legislation to create the state health benefit exchange as quasi-governmental agency along the lines of the Virginia Housing Authority.

Republican Del. Terry Kilgore, who chairs the House Commerce and Labor Committee, has also indicated he will offer legislation to create an exchange.

McClellan said the legislation creating the exchange will expire if the Supreme Court rules the federal law unconstitutional, and that despite court battles, the state has already "taken steps assuming that federal health care will remain in place."

"The governor's budget makes certain decisions on funding assuming that legislation will stay in place, in particular cutting the funding to the free clinics," McClellan said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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