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What health reform means for the people of Illinois

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Illinois Needs a Competitive Health Insurance Marketplace - SB 1729 Will Establish One

The Illinois General Assembly has a lot of contentious, difficult, and time-consuming items on its 2011 agenda—the state budget, pensions, workers compensation to name a few.

But one item—passage of legislation establishing a competitive marketplace for health insurance where everyone will be able to find comprehensive coverage that is affordable—has already been researched and debated and is ready for a quick decision.

SB 1729, the Illinois Health Coverage Exchange Establishment Act of 2011, is the product of months of work by the Illinois Health Care Reform Implementation Council followed by open and robust discussions about the bill’s components and language in stakeholder working groups of patient and family advocates, employers, insurers, providers, and insurance producers convened by the Illinois Department of Insurance. SB 1729 is s sponsored by Senator David Koehler and, as of April 11, 2011, 13 other senators.

SB 1729 creates a marketplace in which individuals and small businesses can shop for high-quality, affordable health plans and individuals and families of modest means can enroll in public programs, such as Medicaid or All Kids, or obtain federal subsidies to purchase private health plans. Under the bill, this marketplace, officially called the Illinois Health Benefits Exchange, will be an independent body, governed by a nine-member board representing health care consumers, providers, small businesses, employees, labor, and insurance producers, who are appointed by the Governor and Attorney General, subject to confirmation by the Senate. Strong conflict-of-interest rules will keep board members focused on the public good, not narrow interests.

The Illinois marketplace needs to be up and running by January 1, 2014, when many of the federal Affordable Care Act insurance reforms (including no denials for pre-existing conditions and premium prices based only on age, geography, and smoking status and not on health condition) and expansions of coverage for lower income individuals go into effect. Illinois needs to have made substantial progress toward establishment of its marketplace by January 1, 2013, or the federal government will run it for Illinois.

SB 1729 will put Illinois on the road to having an effective exchange operational by 2014 and will allow Illinois to receive $150-200 million in federal funds for implementation. A competing bill, HB 1577, was drafted without any public input, lacks a governance plan, totally ignores the public program side of an exchange, makes preemptive decisions on insurance offerings, and delays Illinois’s progress toward establishing a health insurance marketplace that truly serves Illinois’s small businesses, employees, individuals, and families well.

Those interested in the future of affordable, comprehensive health coverage in Illinois should call their state senator and ask him or her to support SB 1729 and even become a sponsor. Call 1.888.616.3322 (AARP’s health line) to reach your senator.

Margaret Stapleton
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law
(Originally posted here in the Shriver Brief)


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