State leaders differ on forming healthcare exchange

Some state legislators are proposing bills to have the state set up a health insurance exchange. President Obama's healthcare reform law calls for each state to establish an exchange, or marketplace to help you compare and choose health insurance plans. But opponents say the state should wait until the Supreme Court rules on challenges to the law.

The law calls for state-run exchanges that would essentially operate like databases where consumers and small businesses could compare costs and benefits of qualifying health insurance options. It is intended to create competition and drive prices down.

Delegate Jennifer McClellan of Richmond is among a handful of legislators proposing bills to start setting up Virgina's exchange now. Explains McClellan, "The federal government has set a deadline by which the state's need to have their exchanges at least begun or established. Otherwise the federal government will establish an exchange. I think everybody agrees it's better for Virginia to have its own exchange."

However Secretary of Health and Human Services Bill Hazel joins the Governor in saying Virginia should wait until the U.S. Supreme Court hears state challenges to the healthcare reform law. Hazel says guidelines for an exchange are unclear.

"We can't yet know if a plan is to be covered," said Dr. Hazel. "We can't yet know how much it's going to cost. It's hard to know how to build the exchange."

But McClellan says forming the exchange can't wait. The law says it must be nearly complete by next year. "The federal government has a pot of money they will give to states that set up their own exchange and if we wait too long we risk losing out on the that money," McClellan said.

"See we disagree with that," Hazel responded when we asked about that concern. "We disagree with that. We got a document yesterday that shows many states have gotten millions of dollars without any legislation and the fact is we have already made the commitment. The General Assembly made the commitment last year, that if a exchange is required, we will build our own in Virginia."

26 states have challenged the healthcare reform law. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the matter this year. Virginia's lawsuit was dismissed on the grounds that the state doesn't have legal standing to file its complaint. State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is appealing.