BOBBY HARRISON: Insurance exchange gives Mississippi a lead on others

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

Way back in 2007, when then-Gov. Haley Barbour was running for re-election, he advocated establishing a health insurance exchange for the state.
Barbour, the former chair of the Republican National Committee and the former political director in the Reagan White House in the 1980s, argued that the exchange would provide accessibility to health insurance for more Mississippians.
With Mississippi being the nation’s least healthy state and since Mississippi had the second highest percentage of uninsured citizens, the Republican governor thought at the time it was the right way to go.
Barbour discussed the reason he believed a health insurance exchange was a good idea in 2007 as he sat in the back of a Crown Victoria between campaign stops speeding along state Highway 2 from Blue Mountain to Hickory Flat. It was hard to take notes on the curvy highway, but I got the gist of what he was discussing.
He was one of the first politicians I heard advocate health insurance exchanges.
How times change.
At least 16 Republican governors are saying they will not enact the health insurance exchanges that are part of President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As a result of last week’s ruling where the Supreme Court said the health care law was constitutional, angry Republican politicians have said not to enact key provisions of the law under the assumption that their candidates will prevail in the November elections and be able to overturn the law.
If the law is not repealed, the Republican governors in a very real sense will be cutting off their noses to spite their faces. After all, under the law, if states opt not to create a health insurance exchange, the federal government will do it for them. In other words, the Republican governors will be giving away authority to the federal government.
The exchanges are supposed to be places where a consumer, who is looking to buy
insurance, can go to shop for a policy that fits his or her needs. Presumably, the rates will be cheaper since people will be shopping on the open market and because consumers will be able to take advantage of group purchasing power. States can form consortiums in creating the exchanges.
Barbour, who is no fan of other aspects of the Affordable Care Act, thought the exchange was a good idea and wanted state officials to have as much say as possible in developing the Mississippi exchange.
He was able to pass bills establishing the exchange through both the state Senate, where current Gov. Phil Bryant then presided as lieutenant governor, and through the House, but in differing forms. House and Senate leaders never could agree on a compromise, resulting in the legislation dying.
But as it turned out, existing law allowed state Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney to begin the process of putting the exchange in place. As a result, Chaney said Mississippi is viewed as a national leader in developing the exchanges that are supposed to be in operation by 2014.
The Republican Chaney says proudly other state insurance commissioners call his office for advice in developing an exchange.
A website already is set up at www.onemissisisppi.com where consumers can go and shop for policies. By the way, the state Department of Insurance is using federal funds to develop the exchange.
Perhaps Republicans will carry the day in November. But that does not necessarily mean they will win enough seats in the Senate to have the votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
But even if they do, having a system to make it easier to obtain health insurance – such as an exchange – might be a good thing regardless of party.
At least Haley Barbour, Mike Chaney and a majority of both parties of the Mississippi Legislature have thought that in recent years.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com or call (601) 353-3119.