Get busy on insurance exchange

November 13, 2012

With a U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming it and the re-election of its prime mover, the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” is law and is going to stay that way, like it or not.

And, as a result, many states are going to have to get on the stick when it comes to creating the online insurance exchanges where small businesses, those without private insurance, or those not receiving Medicare or Medicaid will be able to compare costs and purchase plans. The law is due to fully go into effect in January 2014, which means the sand is running through the hourglass ever more rapidly.

States had originally been due to submit plans to the Department of Health and Human Services on how they would operate an exchange by Friday, but they were given an extension last week through Dec. 14. If states opt not to establish an exchange, the federal government will establish one for them. States also have the option to initially take a pass on setting up their own exchanges but doing so at a later date.

The Associated Press reported last week that only 17 states and the District of Columbia were anywhere near where they needed to be in setting up the exchanges. While West Virginia is one of the 17, Pennsylvania is among the much larger group of laggards. Though Gov. Tom Corbett said in 2011 he was committed to launching an exchange, and the state has received $33 million in federal cash to build one, there’s been little movement in Harrisburg. Michael Consedine, Pennsylvania’s insurance commissioner, has explained that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been slow to answer questions about how the exchanges are supposed to operate, and the necessary legislation to kick the process into gear is still languishing in both the state House and Senate.

It doesn’t seem out of the question, however, that politics has played some part in Pennsylvania’s tortoise-like pace. Corbett, when he was the state’s attorney general, was among those who filed suit to have the law overturned, and the pledge by Mitt Romney to repeal the law if he reached the White House undoubtedly made some officials in Pennsylvania and other states reluctant to put a lot of sweat into something that could have been rendered irrelevant with the swipe of a pen.

But now that the law’s full implementation is a certainty, Pennsylvania should speed its efforts to set up its own exchange. With an estimated 2 million state residents likely to buy insurance through it, according to a 2011 study, this is an endeavor where it’s time to stop dilly-dallying and get to work.



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