Senators Ralph S. Northam (Dâ€“Norfolk) and Barbara A. Favola (Dâ€“Arlington) today announced legislation to create Virginiaâ€™s Health Benefit Exchange (HBE), required under the Federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly called “Obamacare.”
The proposal, SB 615, would implement the recommendations of the Virginia Health Reform Initiative (VHRI) Advisory Council, a bipartisan panel of legislators, experts, and health industry leaders handpicked by Governor Bob McDonnell to advise him on the structure and governance of the HBE. The Governor established VHRI in 2011, after a bill committing Virginia to developing its own HBE passed the General Assembly with an overwhelming bipartisan majority.
â€œIn the spirit of responsible and limited government, Virginia has pledged to create its own exchange, rather than dragging our feet and allowing the Federal Government to do it for us.â€ said Northam, a pediatric neurologist by trade. â€œThe lack of leadership our Governor has shown by refusing to support VHRIâ€™s recommendations concerns us deeply, so we are stepping up to fill the void. It is time to stop looking toward the past and start securing our future.â€
Should Virginia fail to establish its own HBE, the ACA allows the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to design and operate one.
While Governor McDonnell has argued that Virginia should wait until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of ACAâ€™s individual insurance mandate, that approach may not give Virginia enough time to set up the HBE before the October 2013 deadline, argued Favola, adding that, â€œRegardless of whether or not the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate, the vast majority of the ACA will likely remain law, and the market-based exchange is an incredibly valuable tool to lower costs and increase choices for Virginia consumers. We need to start planning now or we are setting ourselves up for failure.â€
A key component of the ACA, the HBE will enhance competition in the health insurance marketplace and make insurance more affordable for individuals and small businesses. Highlights of SB 615 include:
- An independent Virginia Health Benefit Authority (VHBA) to run the HBE
- A 15 member VHBA Board with 12 citizen members, four each appointed by the Governor, Senate, and House of Delegates
- A requirement that qualifying health plans (QHPs) include all benefits now mandated in Virginia
- A continued role for the VHRI in determining the essential health benefits to be required in QHPs
A subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor will hold a hearing on SB 615 Wednesday at 8:00am in Richmond.