BILL MINOR: Mississippi submits its insurance plan to HHS

By Bill Minor

JACKSON – When you hear Mike Chaney talk, he sounds like a character sent from central casting for a Confederate general’s role in “Gone With the Wind.” His rich Southern accent though is clear.
Old South or not, Chaney as the state’s Republican Insurance Commissioner stands out from the GOP crowd who despise anything connected to President Obama, especially the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
Last week, Chaney, whom I have known and liked since he was a state senator from Vicksburg, the Civil War “Gibraltar of the South,” courageously (and apparently unilaterally) on Nov. 14 submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services a detailed plan on how Mississippi will craft its health insurance exchange to comply with so-called Obamacare.
Chaney met the deadline for states to furnish HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius a compliance letter and a detailed plan if they intended to operate their own exchange. The exchanges are more or less an online market list of health insurance plans, showing price and benefits each company offers.
Long a believer in high-risk insurance pools, Chaney had gotten out-front early on to assemble elements of how the state would structure its own health care insurance exchange, quietly utilizing a $20 million federal grant to organize a health care advisory board for guidance. Chaney was wise enough to have the state’s health exchange plan ready to implement contingent on the U.S. Supreme Court upholding constitutionality of the individual mandate, a key element in ACA. It requires everyone without coverage to purchase private health insurance that would be federally subsidized for low-income consumers.
What Chaney has done is huge when contrasted with refusal by at least 15 other Republican-controlled states to comply with the health insurance exchange deadline, making it mandatory under ACA for the federal government to run their exchange. Chaney has taken the position that the exchange is not a political idea but a “universal idea.” In this state the insurance exchange will make coverage available to 275,000 Mississippians.
Chaney’s gutsy move in filing the state’s health insurance exchange plan with Secretary Sibelius is not entirely out of the woods yet: Will Chaney’s signature on the plan, rather than Gov. Phil Bryant’s, be enough to pass muster with Sibelius? A spokesman for Chaney’s office (he was traveling outside the state) told me they had “every reason to believe” that the HHS secretary will okay it.
Chaney deserves a merit badge for opening the way to cover thousands of Mississippians who either could not afford health care insurance or lost it when their employer dropped it during the Great Recession.
Chaney’s experience as a legislator may have helped, but the commissioner skillfully got the Legislature in 2009 (even before ACA passed) to give him discretionary power to create a state insurance exchange.
Although you won’t get GOPers around the Capitol to talk about it, there was an election on Nov. 6 and one thing it settled is that Obamacare isn’t going away.
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Clarification: Sen. Roger Wicker’s staff has complained that in my Nov. 14 column I got wrong how much Wicker spent in defeating Democrat Albert Gore, and the vote Gore received. Wicker’s FEC Report shows he spent approximately $1 million (not $7 million that I reported – a figure I picked up from New York Times) and that of the entire 43 percent of the vote cast against Wicker in the General Election, Gore received 40 percent, and two other candidates split three percent.
Columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at edinman@earthlink.net.