LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The road to Nebraska creating its own health insurance exchange could be a long one, as indicated Tuesday by nearly three hours of testimony before lawmakers.
Lawmakers began discussion on two bills that would form the Nebraska Health Benefit Exchange Act, a plan offered as an alternative to the federal health insurance plan now being scrutinized by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The bills up for debate in the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee were introduced to meet the requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act, which calls for states to have an operating exchange by 2014.
If a state doesn’t have a plan in place, the federal Health and Human Services Department has the authority to create and operate a health benefit exchange.
Whether Nebraska needs to act now depended Tuesday on whom was being asked.
Supporters said Nebraska needs to act immediately to avoid federal control. Opponents said the state should wait for the Supreme Court decision this summer.
“Nebraska will have substantial flexibility if we decide to enact our own exchange,” said Mary Ann Borgeson, vice chairwoman of the Douglas County Commission and a representative of the Nebraska Health Care Alliance. “We have the opportunity in Nebraska to keep the exchange simple and cost-effective.”
Opponent John McCollister, executive director of the Platte Institute for Economic Research, said there is little threat of a federal “takeover” and the state does not have to act so quickly.
“While some proponents of these bills insist the exchanges must be set up immediately to retain local control, it is clear the federal Department of Health and Human Services is willing to push back deadlines to accommodate legal challenges and determine what federal regulations will be introduced.”
Sens. Rich Pahls of Boys Town and Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha each have introduced a bill that would meet the requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act.
Some states have delayed action on the matter, hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will find the federal health care law unconstitutional, but Nebraska and many others have moved ahead to ensure they retain control over the health exchange should the federal law be upheld.
The exchanges are the system through which uninsured people would buy coverage from a choice of plans with federal tax credits.
Pahls and Nordquist have said their proposals are works in progress and will likely evolve over the next few weeks. They acknowledge their bills are similar.
The federal overhaul and the state exchanges are intended to increase access to quality and affordable health care coverage, reduce the number of people without insurance and offer more affordable options to businesses.
Tiffany Seibert, Sen. Nordquist’s legislative aide, said if the Nebraska exchange is approved, as many as 120,000 Nebraskans would be able to buy quality health insurance.
“It is intended to make sure that Nebraskans can buy the insurance that they need,” she said. “This is health insurance for Nebraskans, by Nebraskans.”