Legislative Logjam on Exchange Bill Rendered Moot
A bill to begin to create a health insurance exchange heads to the House floor
June 1, 2011 – Rep. Jim Thompson (R-Dallas) was the sole Republican on the House Health Care Committee Wednesday to support a bill that sets in motion the creation of a health insurance exchange in Oregon.
The exchange will be a place where consumers and small businesses can compare and shop for health plans.
Without Thompson’s vote the bill would not have passed the committee, which is split evenly among four Democrats and four Republicans. The committee’s four Democrats each voted ‘yes.’
Minutes earlier, Rep. Ben Cannon (D-Portland) read an opinion by legislative counsel that rendered moot a key sticking point that had stalled Senate Bill 99 for weeks on the House side after nearly unanimously passing the Senate.
The opinion said nothing in the current version of the bill would prohibit the Oregon Health Authority from including in its business plan the ability for the exchange to selectively negotiate with insurers for lower premiums. That business plan will come before lawmakers in February.
“We have heard from a lot of people that have differing opinions on this,” Cannon said. “In my view it at least creates enough ambiguity to leave open this question.”
It was enough for Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) who had strongly pushed for an amendment to accept the bill as passed by the Senate.
Laura Etherton, lobbyist for the Oregon Public Interest Research Group, said she was glad the opinion might leave the option open for selective contracting, but her group wanted a bill that specifically directed the state to include such an option. For that reason, she said, OSPIRG would still oppose the bill.
“We’re disappointed the legislature will not pass a bill that clearly states the exchange can and should use the buying power of consumers and businesses to negotiate a better deal and better choices,” Etherton said.
For weeks, a group of consumer advocates led by OSPIRG, AARP Oregon and SEIU had opposed the bill for its lack of negotiating authority, while three large business groups had supported the current version of the bill because they thought it prevented the exchange board from selective contracting.
If Oregon does not create its own health exchange, the federal government would impose a national exchange on the state, based on the Affordable Care Act.
Thompson said despite the implications to federal law, a health insurance exchange is something people in Oregon have been talking about for years before the federal law passed.
“This is not a new thing in Oregon,” Thompson said. “I don’t see the risk at this point with going into a planning process to look at what the future might look like.”
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Jun 1 2011