Opponents push Chaney to drop insurance exchange

By Jeff Amy/The Associated Press

JACKSON— Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said Wednesday he’s going continue with plans for a state-run insurance exchange, despite opposition.

More than 30 tea party members attended a meeting of a committee that’s drafting recommendations to Chaney for how Mississippi’s exchange should look. They want Chaney to abandon his effort as a way of chipping away at the federal health care overhaul.

Laura VanOverschelde of Jackson said that Chaney shouldn’t have gone forward after state lawmakers failed to pass bills sponsoring an exchange.

“I’m opposed to Obamacare and I’m opposed to having the health insurance exchange set up in the state against the wishes of the people and against the wishes of their elected officials,” she said in an interview Wednesday.

Chaney, an elected Republican, says he has administrative power to go ahead anyway. He says if Mississippi designs its own exchange, it can tailor offerings to the needs of the state.

“Personally, I don’t like the Affordable Care Act,” Chaney told the audience at the monthly meeting of the Mississippi Health Insurance Exchange Advisory Board. “It’s the law, whether you like it or not.”

He also denied VanOverschelde’s claims that the advisory board making recommendations to him is acting out of financial self-interest.

Opponents also say the way federal funding is structured, there’s no money available for the federal government to run state exchanges, and a chance that opting out will mean Mississippi has no exchange.

“The federal government may well not set up one,” said Richard Wilbourn of Ridgeland. “We may go without one.”

Wilbourn said that even with a state exchange, federal officials will end up dictating terms to the state.

“It will have the federal government taking control of a big part of health insurance in this state,” he said.

Chaney says that the idea that there will be no federal action if the state give is up is incorrect. He said opting out will mean worse options and less control for Mississippi.

“The information they have is not accurate,” he said. “We are trying to do what’s in the best interest of the state based on known facts.

Chaney says the state’s exchange could be ready for federal approval in 60 to 90 days.

So far, other officials appear to be supporting Chaney

“Prior to the November election, state government has to proceed as if Obamacare is the law, including moving ahead with an insurance exchange,” said Laura Hipp, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.

Gov. Phil Bryant did not immediately respond to a request for comment.