In Seattle Business Magazine, Premera CEO Gubby Barlow (pictured at AWB's Policy Summit last September) wrote a thought provoking article on what is at stake with our state's health exchange legislation this year.
Many of you may remember that last year's legislature passed a bill setting up the framework for the exchange and now the real work of developing it begins.
Last November, I wrote a column about the need for our state lawmakers to address the development of the exchange and not let it to the federal government. Even as the new health care law heads for the U.S. Supreme Court where it faces an uncertain future, Washington state is moving forward with its $23 million effort to design and implement a health care exchange. State health care exchanges, mandated by the federal law, must be in place by 2014. They were billed as a way to promote competition and provide access to subsidies for qualified consumers.
Barlow writes: "The Exchange will fundamentally re-make the individual and small group markets for health care coverage, with significant implications for all employers. Exchanges are intended to provide consumers with centralized, online access to health care coverage products and, for individual consumers, access to federal subsidies to assist families with household incomes up to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (approximately $90,000 for a family of four) with the purchase of coverage."
For context in understanding such a change, our state experienced flawed state-level health care reform in the 1990’s that ultimately forced the temporary closure of the market for new sales of individual and family coverage. The lesson was clear: government policies that dramatically change access to health care coverage are fraught with the risk of unintended consequences, Barlow warns.
If Exchanges are not carefully constructed; the individual market could again be put at risk at the very time it could grow significantly. Thus, the State needs to make prudent implementation decisions, he concludes.
Gubby, who was recognized by the American Jewish Committee as the 2011 Human Relations Award recipient, is absolutely right and we all need to move this issue to the front burner of the stove. The heat is already turned up.
Don C. Brunell, President (DonB@awb.org)