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Monday, August 1, 2011

Illinois General Assembly Taking on Immensely Important Task: Creating Competitive Health Insurance Marketplace

The stage is set for the Illinois General Assembly to complete one of the most important tasks of its members’ legislative lifetimes: creating the competitive health insurance marketplace (officially called the Illinois Health Benefits Exchange) to begin operations in January 2014.

Recently enacted Illinois Public Act 97-0142 calls for the creation of a 12-member Legislative Study Committee tasked with reporting to the General Assembly and the Governor by September 30, 2011, on implementation and establishment of a centralized marketplace where individuals and small businesses can shop for affordable health insurance, qualify for public subsidies to purchase insurance, or be enrolled in public programs (Medicaid or All Kids). The full General Assembly will take up the Exchange legislation during the fall veto session, which begins October 26.

The leaders of the General Assembly should immediately appoint members to the Study Committee—legislators who understand that establishing this marketplace is extremely important to millions of Illinois residents (including the 1.7 million currently without insurance) and small businesses.

Once appointed, the Study Committee members need to educate themselves on what the different and better world of health insurance will be like in 2014. For starters, they need to recognize that by 2014 (sooner in some cases) due to insurance market reforms required by the federal Affordable Care Act, all health insurance companies must:

  • offer insurance to all applicants (no rejections  due to health status or pre-existing health conditions),
  • set rates based on applicants’ age, geographic location, and smoking status (no charging women or sick people more),
  • spend most of the premiums they collect on health care, not on administration, and
  • cover preventive health services with no deductible or co-payments, cover care in approved clinical trials, and have no lifetime or annual limits on coverage.
Come 2014, most Americans will be required to have health insurance; that means some 25 million new customers for insurers. The federal government will subsidize the purchase of insurance by people under 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (that’s $43,560 per year for one person and $89,400 for a family of four), and all citizens (and some non-citizens) with incomes under 133% of the Federal Poverty Level will be eligible for Medicaid. Insurers will be able to put their energies into competing by offering the best value and highest quality to customers rather than into avoiding insuring people with health problems, rescinding coverage, or not renewing policies when people file insurance claims.

Study Committee members also need to recognize that the Exchange is about both private health insurance and public health insurance programs. On the private insurance side, the Exchange needs to make it easy for individuals and small businesses to compare health plans, find out if they are eligible for subsidies, and enroll in a health plan that meets their needs. On the public side, the exchange needs to screen people seeking health coverage for eligibility for Illinois public health programs (Medicaid and All Kids), verify their eligibility, and enroll them and reach out to those newly eligible for Medicaid.
Committee members need to understand what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) expects from and offers to the states regarding exchanges, most of which is set out in the newly issued proposed rules announced by HHS head, Kathleen Sebelius, on July 11, 2011.

The Study Committee members also need to get up to speed on the substantial work already done or in progress in Illinois:

First, they need to review the Illinois Health Care Reform Implementation Council Initial Report (March 2011). The Implementation Council, established by Governor Quinn, was comprised of the heads of the several Illinois state agencies responsible for various aspects of federal health reform. In 2010 and early 2011, it held meetings around the state to hear from legislators, medical providers, individuals, and organizations on how to best implement the federal reforms, including the Exchange. The report contains detailed recommendations regarding the Exchange (most importantly, that Illinois establish its own Exchange as a quasi-governmental agency with power to negotiate with insurers and require them to compete on price and quality to sell on the Exchange), with accompanying discussion and summaries of the positions of various interests.

Second, they need to examine carefully Illinois Senate Bill 1729, the Illinois Health Coverage Exchange Act. It was the product of months of Department of Insurance-convened open meetings of five stakeholder working groups (patient and family advocates, employers, insurers, providers, and insurance agents). These groups met separately and then together on the key issues of Exchange governance options, operating models, and financing options. S.B. 1729 was based on all that thoughtful input. Study Committee members should also visit the Illinois Department of Insurance’s website pages on Health Insurance Reform, where they will find much important background information on Exchanges and statutes from other states.

Third, on the public programs side, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) is moving ahead in developing the automated processes for screening people for eligibility for Medicaid and All Kids, verifying their eligibility, and enrolling them in the appropriate program via the Exchange. The Study Committee needs to invite HFS Director Julie Hamos to give a detailed briefing on those activities.

Finally, the Study Committee can learn from other states that are going down the same road—some far ahead of Illinois. The Study Committee should take advantage of all these existing reports and resources and should use its approximately 10 weeks to drill down into the issues, perhaps by inviting recognized experts to meet with it to answer questions members may have and debate various options. And, of course, it should allow the public to describe their needs and express their opinions. 

What it should not do is start from scratch, ignoring the work of the Council, the state agencies, and the input of the hundreds of individuals and organizations who already have participated in good faith in earlier processes. Its September 30 report should aim to educate the entire General Assembly about the importance of this competitive health insurance marketplace. It should be based on facts and sound economic and policy analysis, should explain the reasons for the policy choices that underlie its recommendations, and should include any substantial conflicting evidence, so that General Assembly members can have a full and fair understanding of the choices they will be making in passing Exchange legislation.

Margaret Stapleton
Originally posted here in the Shriver Brief.

1 comment:

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