Quick Hit Steven Ross Johnson Monday July 9th, 2012, 1:49pm

Local Health Advocates Press Quinn For Illinois Health Exchange

Emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last month that upheld key elements within President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act of 2010, health reform advocates recently called on Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to move quickly toward establishing a state-run health insurance exchange prior to the federal government’s January 1 deadline.

More than a hundred health, education and labor groups signed a letter sent to Gov. Quinn last week asking him to issue an executive order to implement an exchange in light of the Illinois General Assembly’s inability to develop a plan prior to the conclusion of its spring session in May.

Under the program, states are required to regulate a set of health care plans with the intent of creating a one-stop marketplace from which individuals can purchase health insurance at competitive prices, thereby making it more affordable while increasing the number of insured.

Only 12 states so far have created exchanges, with many opting to wait until the Supreme Court handed down a decision over ACA. Governors from at least three states – Florida, Texas and Louisiana – have publicly announced they would opt out of implementing a health care exchange for their state.

Under ACA, states must have an exchange up-and-running by January 1, 2014 and have a plan developed for one by the beginning of next year in order to avoid having an exchange set up for them by the federal government.

“The federal exchange is a very strong starting point, but we know we can do much better here in Illinois,” said Jim Duffett, executive director for the Campaign for Better Health Care, which drafted the letter to Quinn.

Duffett added it was urgent for Quinn to act now in case the General Assembly is not able to develop a plan by the end of its fall veto session.

“For the last two years, the General Assembly has wrung their hands on not moving forward on developing and implementing a state exchange,” Duffett said. “And since they did not do anything last session, we’re facing a November 13 deadline that Illinois needs to put forward a plan stating that this is how we’re going to move forward with the state exchange.”

Although he would not say definitively when, or even if Quinn planned to issue an executive order, a spokesman for the governor’s office, Mike Claffey, said the governor stood in full support of the new health law and remained committed to its implementation.

“The Governor has stated very clearly that Illinois is moving forward to deliver the health care reforms promised under the ACA,” Claffey said. “It means more than 1.5 million additional people in Illinois will have access to health coverage. This will boost the health of our population and the health of our economy, in terms of the healthcare sector job opportunities that will be created by the Act.” In terms of what form an Illinois-run health care exchange might take, Claffey said the details were still being assessed.

Duffett contended that the key for any exchange to have a chance of being effective lies in its ability to remain free of any possible conflicts of interest by the insurance companies. He said a governing board to regulate the program should have no industry representatives as members. He added that the cost of setting up and maintaining the exchange should fall on the insurance companies instead of taxpayers since they stand to gain from an increase in new customers.

“We view this board like the jury system - you have a prosecutor and then you have a defender - they don’t get to pick somebody who represents their position on the jury, they have to convince the jury that the person is not guilty or guilty,” Duffett said. “We think the insurance industry has every right to come before this board and argue their point of view – no one is opposed to that. [But] they should not be the fox guarding the chicken coop.”

For groups such as the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the details involved in how a state health exchange is eventually set up and run has significant implications for the estimated 45,000 Illinois resident living with HIV.

“Right now, because HIV is a pre-existing condition, people cannot buy health insurance on the individual open market; the insurance companies just won’t sell it to them,” said John Peller, vice president of policy for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. “So the open, fair, competitive transparent online marketplaces that the exchanges promise are going to be critical for those with HIV who are working to be able to access health insurance that fits their needs.”   

Few issues during Pres. Barack Obama’s first term in office have been as divisive or sparked more controversy than health care, with critics arguing ACA will have the opposite effect of its intended purpose, forcing the price of health care for many Americans to rise as well as the size of the national debt.

“I said a couple of years ago, Obamacare was the most important issue in the year 2010,” said 8th Congressional District U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-McHenry) in an interview with the Daly Herald July 1. “John Roberts, the Supreme Court, just made it the issue in 2012."

Among the 109 organizations that signed the letter to the governor was the SEIU Illinois State Council, which is a sponsor of this site.

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