‘A Virginia conversation’: Lawmaker proposes overhaul to state’s health care market

‘A Virginia conversation’: Lawmaker proposes overhaul to state’s health care market
State Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Every year, the refrain from Virginia lawmakers about health insurance is the same: It’s too expensive and prices in the individual market especially are out of control (though they might be stabilizing).

The solutions that seem to gain the most traction are often partisan, like relying on short-term and catastrophic health plans, which are typically cheaper but offer less coverage.

Republicans often like them while Democrats tend to be opposed, though bills submitted this year were supported by both parties in the Senate. They only narrowly passed the House on Wednesday.

Last year, Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed similar legislation, and in an email a spokesperson for his office said he “remains strongly opposed” to the bills.

This year, Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, is trying something different. She has floated a big idea that she hopes will garner bipartisan support, offering a solution for those who can’t afford individual market rates because they don’t get subsidies, and saving money on coverage for an otherwise expensive population in one fell swoop.

“This isn’t a Republican/Democrat conversation,” she told the Senate Commerce and Labor committee. “This is a Virginia conversation.”

The lawmaker and OB/GYN has proposed essentially overhauling Virginia’s individual market, removing the state from the federally-operated exchanges and creating a new market modeled after employer-sponsored health plans. It’s a novel idea that no other state has done, she said.

“I would like to see Virginia lead on this,” she said in an interview. “I think the whole country needs something different.”