House OKs plan for insurance exchange

By Bobby Harrison/Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – A key component of the new federal health care law was approved Monday by the Mississippi House.
The state House, by an 83-33 margin, passed legislation to enact a health insurance exchange in Mississippi.
The health insurance exchange is a critical part of the Affordable Care Act. Aaron Sisk, senior staff attorney with the Mississippi Department of Insurance, has described the exchanges as “a marketplace for health insurance … a one-stop shop.”
Presumably, people can get health insurance cheaper in the exchanges because the large volume of customers will drive down costs.
A similar bill is pending in the Mississippi Senate.
Under the federal law, states can either set up their own exchanges or leave it to the federal government to establish one.
It is no secret that the federal health care law is unpopular with many segments of the population, especially Republicans. Ironically, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who has filed a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the federal health care law, supports the exchanges and is requesting $1.5 million to put one in place in Mississippi.
On the House floor Monday afternoon, House Appropriations Chair Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said funds are not available during another tight budget year to pay for the exchange
Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, told Stringer no state money would be needed for the exchange this year. He said that before 2016, the federal government would pay at least 95 percent of the cost of the exchange and might pay it all.
He said Insurance Commission Mike Chaney already has received a $1 million federal grant to begin work on enacting the exchange.
After 2016, the exchanges are required to be self-supporting.
The law calls for the exchanges to be up and running by January 2014. But the states are supposed to have their exchanges in place by January 2013.
“All we are setting up right now is the framework,” Johnson said.
Rep. Gary Staples, R-Laurel, asked what would happen if the health care law, which is being challenged in the federal courts, is declared unconstitutional. Rep. Brandon Jones, D-Pascagoula, responded that Mississippians could still benefit from an exchange.
At least one Republican – Barbour – seems to agree. In his budget proposal to the Legislature, he said in November, “whether Obamacare ever goes into effect, the exchange will help Mississippians increase health insurance coverage for our citizens.”
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.