Chaney presses ahead on exchange

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said a blueprint for the state’s health insurance exchange will be submitted to federal officials – as mandated by the controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – in the coming days.
Chaney said the blueprint is complete, but he is waiting on submitting it to federal officials until he has a chance to present it to Gov. Phil Bryant, who has been a fierce opponent of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
But Chaney said, “As the elected commissioner of insurance, I can submit the blueprint without the governor’s approval.”
Under the federal law, next Friday was supposed to be the deadline for states to submit a plan to the Department of Health and Human Services, but the Obama administration has extended the deadline to Dec. 14. The federal government will run the exchange for states that do not develop their own.
A health insurance exchange will allow people to shop for health insurance coverage. Presumably, insurance rates would be cheaper on the exchange because of the competition and because a shopper would get the benefit of a group rate.
Former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour supported the concept of the exchange as a method of increasing the number of Mississippians with health insurance coverage.
But many have opposed all aspects of the Affordable Care Act and had hoped Tuesday’s election would result in the repeal of the controversial law. But with Obama’s re-election, most believe that the law is here to stay.
Still, some Republican governors in states where the decision rests with them because there is not an elected insurance commissioner have indicated they will not submit an exchange plan to federal officials.
Various conservative groups have put pressure on Chaney to not develop an exchange. But he has said that he would rather Mississippi operate the exchange instead of federal officials and that he supports the concept as “a free market” approach to provide health insurance.
“We are going to move forward,” he said.
Of the exchange, Mick Bullock, a spokesman for the governor, said, “Gov. Bryant has repeatedly said he supports a free market exchange. Under the current law, states may create a state exchange but it ultimately is controlled by the federal government, which has the final decision on the exchange’s content. The funding of these exchanges is another concern of the governor, and he remains opposed to anything that might result in tax increases for all Mississippians.”
Mississippi’s Republican leadership will have other tough decisions to make regarding the Affordable Care Act, due to Tuesday’s election.
The biggest decision is whether to expand the state’s Medicaid rolls to cover those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $14,000 annually.
Bryant has been adamantly opposed to the expansion, saying the state cannot afford it even though the federal government will pay the bulk of the costs, including all of the costs for the first two years.
Bullock said the election outcome did not sway the governor’s opinion of the Medicaid expansion.
“The governor continues to believe an expansion of Medicaid would ultimately result in tax increases and draconian cuts to state services, including public education and public safety,” Bullock said. “Gov. Bryant does not support any expansion and will resist those efforts.”
Others contend the expansion will not only improve health care, but also spur economic growth in the state because it would produce a healthier workforce and bring additional dollars to the state.
The Medicaid expansion and the exchange are supposed to begin in 2014.
Chaney has received $24 million in federal funds to develop the exchange, though he said all of those funds will not be spent. He said he has offered the Mississippi exchange as a blueprint for other states that are not as far along as Mississippi in developing the concept.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com