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State Senate Approves Health Care ‘Exchanges’

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

 

Rhode Island took a significant step towards health care reform yesterday when the state Senate approved legislation to establish a health insurance exchange.

The legislation, which was introduced by Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, comes in response to the federal health care reform bill passed in 2010, which requires states to have fully operational exchanges by 2014.

A key centerpiece of state level health care reform, the exchange is essentially an online marketplace where businesses and individuals can go to learn about their insurance options and compare prices. Ideally, supporters of the idea say the exchange would expand and improve the quality of coverage, increase competition and transparency, and reduce overall costs.

‘Centerpiece of health care reform’

“The exchange is the first step towards increasing access to health care for all Rhode Islanders,” said President Paiva Weed. “This is the centerpiece of our health care reform implementation. The exchange will create a health benefit marketplace that is fair, competitive, transparent and understandable to individuals and small businesses.”

The new exchange will function as a quasi-public entity, with no state general revenues used to support it. Instead, once established, the exchange will draw significant federal funds in the form of tax credits to individuals with incomes between 133 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level. Furthermore, as a quasi-public agency, the exchange will be more capable of obtaining federal funds for staff positions as well as being shielded from bad state budget cycles.

An 11-member executive board will govern the exchange, with board members being directly appointed by the Governor. In order to avoid any conflicts of interest, the legislation explicitly bans any board member from being employed by or affiliated with an insurance agency, health care provider, or a health care facility or clinic. The board will also establish a separate advisory committee comprised of insurance and healthcare experts to aide it in its decision-making.

The bi-partisan legislation is co-sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere (R – Dist. 38), Rhoda E. Perry (D – Dist. 3), Dominick J. Ruggerio (D – Dist. 4), and Erin P. Lynch (D – Dist. 31).

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