OUR OPINION: Mississippi's ahead on health exchange

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney got caught in a political hot spot earlier this year when some Republicans didn’t like the fact that he was proceeding to create a state health insurance exchange in response to a requirement of the federal Affordable Care Act.
Obamacare, as it is widely known, is decidedly unpopular among Republican officials and conservatives generally, including Gov. Phil Bryant, and the governor and others didn’t want to be seen as giving in to the idea that the law was permanent. Wait until after the election, Bryant urged, when a new Republican president and Congress might be able to repeal the law.
It’s now clear that scenario isn’t going to happen, that Obamacare isn’t likely to be repealed, and that Chaney’s early work on an exchange was a wise and prudent course.
A health insurance exchange that would allow Mississippians to shop for health care coverage appropriate to their needs started as a Republican idea in Mississippi. Former Gov. Haley Barbour advocated it as a free market mechanism to increase the number of Mississippians with health insurance coverage. It’s assumed that exchanges can help hold down insurance premium costs through competition and group rates.
But when state exchanges became a component of Obamacare, the political tenor of the discussion changed.
Chaney, a Republican, knew that the law gave states a choice: Set up your own exchange and decide how it is structured, or the federal government will come in and do it for you. Better that Mississippi design its own exchange, Chaney reasoned, than turn it over to the feds.
As a result of this sensible approach, Mississippi is now well ahead of many if not most other states in creating an exchange. Chaney said last week he’ll submit a blueprint for Mississippi’s exchange to federal officials after discussing it with Bryant, but that he has the authority to proceed without the governor’s approval.
Bryant’s spokesman has expressed continuing skepticism about the ability of the state to truly control its exchange as well as the potential cost. But Chaney’s leadership has put Mississippi in a much better position to chart its own course than if he had waited, as many other states did, to do anything at all.