Politics & Government

Beshear waiting on court ruling before creating health insurance exchange

Gov. Steve Beshear spoke during a hearing of the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012.  Photo by David Perry | Staff
Gov. Steve Beshear spoke during a hearing of the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. Photo by David Perry | Staff HERALD-LEADER

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear will wait until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the Affordable Care Act before issuing an executive order to set up a Kentucky health benefit exchange.

The exchange is envisioned as an online marketplace where consumers can shop for competing health insurance plans. It is intended to reduce coverage costs for individuals, small businesses and local governments, and would operate like Travelocity or Orbitz.

Each state must have an exchange by 2014 under the federal health reform act enacted by Congress.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide in late June on the constitutionality of the federal act.

If it is upheld, the state will have until the end of this year to demonstrate its readiness to run a health insurance exchange, or the federal government will take responsibility for it.

Several interest groups representing employers, health care advocates, and citizens — including the Kentucky Hospital Association, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Voices for Health and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield — have said the state should not allow the federal government to operate the exchange for Kentucky.

If the law is upheld, Beshear said he will issue an executive order to set up the state health benefit exchange.

Some legislators in other states have criticized their governors for giving such an order before knowing if the act is constitutional or not.

"While no one can predict what the Supreme Court will ultimately decide, it is imperative that the state prepare for any decision" Beshear said in a news release Thursday.

"The steps we have taken to date, and the planning process we are putting in place, help ensure the state is able and ready to follow the law, if upheld, and also guarantees we don't have the federal government running our insurance market," he said.

Beshear said the exchange will help with a variety of tasks, including: facilitate the purchase and sale of health plans in the individual market, assist small employers with enrollment of their employees in health plans; help individuals enroll in health plans, Medicaid and KCHIP; enable individuals to receive tax credits and subsidies for the health insurance premiums; and help qualify small businesses for tax credits.

State officials from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Department of Insurance will meet with insurers, providers, agents, consumers, employers and advocates in the coming weeks to solicit input on the development of a Kentucky exchange, Beshear said.

"Kentucky understands the unique regional and economic needs of our citizens, as well as the health insurance needs of small businesses," said Audrey Haynes, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. "We have existing working relationships with insurers, agents, advocates, health care providers and other business partners."

In February, Kentucky received a $57.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to continue the planning for, and implementation of, programs and systems required by the federal Affordable Care Act.

Kentucky previously received two federal health insurance exchange planning grants totaling $8.6 million.