At Least One Republican Supports Health Insurance Exchange

Mike Klein, GPPF Forum Editor

Republicans seem almost united that the General Assembly should not consider legislation this session to create a health insurance exchange.  “The House, the Senate and the Governor have all agreed to wait on that,” Sen. Renee Unterman said Thursday morning.

Well, united with at least one exception.  Former lawmaker and second-year Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said, “I would like to see the legislature move forward with an exchange,” when he sat next to Unterman at “Health Care Unscrambled” hosted by Georgians for a Healthy Future.  Think of it as “Eggs and Aspirin” under dim lighting at the Freight Depot.

“Wait on that” means wait for this summer’s hotly anticipated U.S. Supreme Court opinion that will decide whether the federal health care reform law survives a constitutional challenge.  Unterman started a spirited conversation that was the highlight of the morning conference.

“I was dismayed to hear, as you just heard, the Senator (Unterman) say there will be no health exchange legislation this year,” Democratic Sen. Nan Orrock said moments later.  “We are headed for a cliff.  There are those who oppose (the Affordable Care Act) and those who are for it.  I am for it.  We move forward when we can bring different ends of the political spectrum together.  We’re missing the boat to keep kicking the ball down the field.”

Orrock found an apparent insurance exchange soul mate in commissioner Hudgens who said, “I don’t want the federal government setting up an exchange in Georgia.  I want Georgia setting up an exchange for Georgia.  I don’t think moving forward with an exchange is giving tacit approval to the Affordable Care Act.  I’m just telling you where I stand.”

Orrick: “Mr. Commissioner, I vote with you on that.  That exactly makes my point.”  Hudgens: “Well, that’s rare, isn’t it!”  As politicians of different political feathers, Orrock and Hudgens agreed that they seldom agree but on this subject, both said Georgia should move toward the implementation of a health insurance exchange.

If upheld by the Supreme Court, the health care reform law requires that states must create health insurance exchanges before 2014 or the federal government will impose an exchange.

The National Conference on State Legislatures maintains a comprehensive website that says 13 states have enacted exchange laws.  Nineteen states including Georgia considered but did not pass legislation.  Bills are pending in five states and the District of Columbia

Governor Nathan Deal did not discuss health insurance exchanges Tuesday during his State of the State address.  Last month an advisory committee created by the General Assembly said Georgia should establish a health insurance marketplace authority, but it did not call for 2012 legislation.  Cindy Zeldin, who is executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future, wrote the committee minority report that recommended moving forward with an exchange now.

“Georgia has an unprecedented opportunity to address our high rate of uninsurance by developing a health insurance exchange for individual consumers,” Zeldin wrote.  “Federal dollars and resources are on the table to help us craft a Georgia solution.  We should seize this opportunity.”  Nearly two million Georgia residents have no health insurance.

Georgians for a Healthy Future unveiled a seven-point legislative agenda that includes trying to plug an insurance hole created by federal health care reform.  Health insurance policies written only for children have dried up in the state’s insurance marketplace.

“This is a market in which parents would buy a health insurance plan for their child but not themselves,” Zeldin told the Public Policy Foundation.  “It might happen if the parent has a plan at work but is not offered dependent coverage, or if they cannot afford a family policy.”

Zeldin said companies pulled out of the child only market after health care reform mandated they could not deny coverage to children because of pre-existing conditions.  Zeldin said her organization and others have been trying to identify the number of children affected in Georgia.

“We would like to follow the footsteps of several other states that have addressed this issue by passing legislation requiring insurance companies” to offer child only coverage, Zeldin said.  Colorado is one state that passed legislation for that purpose.

There may be bipartisan support.  Panelist Rep. Richard Smith, who is Republican chair of the House Insurance Committee, cited stand alone child policies and giving Georgians the right to purchase health insurance across state lines as two possible priorities for the 2012 General Assembly.

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