Senate Committee Passes Exchange Bill Without Consumer Amendments

As it stands now, consumer advocates still oppose the bill that makes concessions to industry
The Lund Report

April 15, 2011 -- Legislation that would create a statewide health insurance exchange passed out of a Senate committee yesterday without the support of a broad coalition of consumer advocates.

Members of the Senate Committee on Health Care, Human Services and Rural Health unanimously passed Senate Bill 99 with amendments. Sen. Chip Shields (D-N/NE Portland) said he voted for the bill out of courtesy even though he disagreed with several provisions.

Details that allow insurance brokers into the exchange, loosens the restrictions on conflicts of interest for board members and limits the board's ability to negotiate for lower insurance prices led a coalition of healthcare consumer advocates to oppose the bill. The coalition includes more than a dozen organizations from Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, AARP of Oregon, SEIU and the Oregon Nurses Association.

Laura Etherton, lobbyist for OSPIRG, proposed several amendments yesterday that could potentially remedy the disagreements. But those amendments were defeated. Etherton pointed to comparable and much more favorable legislation, she said, creating health insurance exhanges in New Jersey, Maryland and California as better examples of what Oregon could accomplish.

Oregon's legislation allows insurers to sell competing health plans outside the exchange, and it also allows two board members to be employees of health insurance companies.

"This bill was supposed to help small businesses and consumers," Etherton said. "But instead, now the bill is a giveaway to the health insurance companies."

Sen. Laurie Monnes-Anderson (D-Gresham) said she opposed the new amendments because it could disrupt a carefully negotiated bipartisan agreement.

Sen. Alan Bates (D-Ashland) also voted against the amendments. “I like to be pragmatic when I can be,” Bates said. “We need to get a bill out that can function. This can be changed in the future when we have a functioning exchange. This is just a method of getting to a point where people can finally have access to health insurance across the state.”

Bates warned that if the exchange bill dies in the House, the federal government will step in and impose a national exchange.

Bates also said he decided not to introduce an amendment that would create a buy-in option to the Oregon Health Plan. Instead, he said he plans to propose such an amendment to the “healthcare transformation” legislation that would vastly alter the way the Oregon Health Plan is administered.

“We have put a lot of time and work, and a lot of compromise into this,” said Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg). “My message to the House is tread lightly on this product.”

Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland), however, has other ideas. He told the Senate Subcommittee on Health Care he couldn’t support the exchange bill if insurance brokers were involved. So he and his colleagues on the House Health Care committee drafted HB 3137, which begins with an earlier version of SB 99.

Senate Bill 99 heads next for a floor vote and then to Greenlick’s House committee.

 

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Comments

In the strong committee system that Oregon has, amendments are not considered on the full House or Senate floor, they are passed or defeated as is.

Oregonians need to stop letting the "fox guard the chicken house". In the health care issue, it seems legislative expediency supercedes consumer protection, a function of government that so often withers under the onslaught of croporate entitlements and special interests.