November 24, 2014

State in no hurry to create health insurance exchange (AUDIO)

Nebraska moves, slowly, toward creating a state health insurance exchange in accordance with the 2010 federal healthcare law.

The state moves slowly, because federal officials continue to sift through the effects of the Supreme Court ruling upholding the law and because the law is complex and not easily interpreted.

State Insurance Director Bruce Ramge told the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee that is department has proceeded slowly and deliberatively.

“Every state is different. Some states have jumped forward with this and we think that putting some thoughtful and careful planning and design into this project is the appropriate way to go,” Ramge testified during the two-hour hearing at the Capitol.

Ramge and the department’s Chief Policy Counsel, Martin Swanson, tried to assure lawmakers the Heineman Administration has been working to plan the exchange. It has hired a consultant which estimates creation of the exchange at $61.4 million, a cost that will be borne by the federal government. The consultant estimates the annual cost of operating the exchange at $17.5 million.

More study will be needed, according to Ramge, in wake of the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the law.

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha has been critical of Gov. Dave Heineman’s approach to the federal healthcare law. After the committee meeting, Nordquist said he isn’t disappointed in the pace of work, but wants the focus to be on consumers.

“Because, if we don’t make a consumer-friendly exchange in our state, it’s going to fail and it’s going to drive up the cost of the exchange,” Nordquist said.

Nordquist said he hopes the Insurance Department will fulfill its promise to seek public input with various hearings in the state.

A group that supports a full embrace of the law held a news conference in the Capitol after the meeting.

Jennifer Carter with Nebraska Appleseed echoed Sen. Nordquist’s assessment, saying the state has made good progress on creating the exchange, but it has left out the consumer.

“There needs to be a consumer focus of this exchange. This is for Nebraskans, so that they can more easily access insurance coverage,” Carter stated.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]