By NEMS Daily Journal
State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, a Republican, has received criticism from various groups because of his work to enact a health insurance exchange in Mississippi. President Barack Obama’s controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act gives states the option to set up the exchange or to allow the federal government to establish and operate the exchange. Chaney answers three questions about the Mississippi version of the health insurance exchange.
Q. What is the history of the health exchange and what is the purpose?
A. A health insurance exchange is a tool for improving access to health insurance by creating a marketplace where small businesses and individuals can easily compare and select health plans. It is neither a Republican nor Democratic idea. It is a universal idea and many private exchanges operate today. In April 2011, the Mississippi Insurance Department requested the Mississippi Comprehensive Health Insurance Risk Pool Association (MCHIRPA) to administer the operations of a state-based, free-market exchange. This allowed the department to maintain its traditional role as regulator and policymaker.
Q. What has Mississippi done thus far to develop a health insurance exchange?
A. On Sept. 30, 2010, MID was awarded $1 million in federal grant funds for critical planning activities related to exchange development. On Aug. 5, 2011, MID was awarded over $20 million in federal grant funds for the implementation and establishment of an exchange. Then, on Oct. 18, 2011, MID issued Bulletin 2011-9 which set forth policies and procedures for the creation of an exchange advisory board and advisory subcommittees. The advisory board has had stakeholder involvement from over 100 individuals across the state and has held seven public meetings. MCHIRPA has begun procuring vendors to provide exchange operations and has completed Phase 1. A fully functional exchange portal is presently being operated by MCHIRPA and can be found at www.onemississippi.com.
Q. In your opinion, is the health insurance exchange something the state should consider regardless of what happens with the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act? Do you think the health insurance exchange has the potential to ensure more people in the state have health insurance?
A. Establishing a free-market exchange in the state provides value for small employers (50 employees or less) of which only 31 percent offer health insurance. MID research found many small business owners reported that managing health benefits for their employees is too time-consuming and they are looking for a solution that would allow them to devote less time and resources toward management of health benefits. Also, allowing individuals to view and compare health plans side-by-side in a standard format is extremely beneficial and allows those individuals to make informed choices about their health insurance. This larger degree of choice contributes to increased competition in the health insurance market.