Virginia Still Dragging Its Feet Over State Health Exchanges

Until last night, it was possible for Gov. Bob McDonnell to argue that it might not be necessary for Virginia to decide whether to establish a health benefits exchange for its citizens since it was at least theoretically possible that Mitt Romney would be swept into office and would, on Day One, somehow magically repeal the Affordable Care Act, alias Obamacare.

But now that it’s today, that fantasy isn’t holding up so well, and Virginia has until Nov. 16 to notify the Obama Administration whether it intends to build a health exchange or whether it will cede control to the federal government.

The state exchanges are a major component of Obamacare. They’re envisioned as consumer-focused portals that offer better health insurance at lower premiums than consumers are able to negotiate on their own. This all sounds a bit communal for McDonnell and other conservatives who think consumers are perfectly able to take care of themselves.

Having done nothing for months, the McDonnell Administration is now complaining that it’s feeling rushed.

“States need to understand the federal exchange model and answers remain to be provided as to how the pieces will link together within an exchange partnership between the federal and the state,” McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell told the Washington Business Journal. “We now have 10 days until the first decision is expected. This is not a reasonable timeline given the lack of information provided to states.”

States empowered

The state benefit exchanges were included in the Affordable Care Act at least in part to answer the objections of conservatives who wanted less federal involvement in health care. Each state has the choice of setting up its own exchange or letting the feds do so.

The exchanges are described as “a mechanism for organizing the health insurance marketplace to help consumers and small businesses shop for coverage in a way that permits easy comparison of available plan options based on price, benefits and services, and quality.

“By pooling people together, reducing transaction costs, and increasing transparency, exchanges create more efficient and competitive markets for individuals and small employers,” according to Healthcare.gov. “Exchanges will allow individuals and small businesses to benefit from the pooling of risk, market leverage, and economies of scale that large businesses currently enjoy.”

Beginning with an open enrollment period in 2013, exchanges will help individuals and small employers shop for, select, and enroll in high-quality, affordable private health plans that fit their needs at competitive prices.  Exchanges will assist eligible individuals to receive premium tax credits or coverage through other Federal or State health care programs.  By providing one-stop shopping, exchanges are intended to make purchasing health insurance easier and more understandable.

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James R. Hood
James R. Hood is the editor and publisher of FairfaxNews.com. A former Associated Press editor and executive, he has more than 50 years of reporting experience.