Va. Dems to push for health insurance exchange during 2012 session

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President Obama’s health care overhaul has not yet seen its day before the country’s highest court, but Virginia Democrats are pressing forward to establish a state-run health insurance exchange during the 2012 General Assembly session.

House Democrats made their case for legislation to establish one based on the recommendations from Gov. Bob McDonnell’s 24-member Virginia Health Reform Initiative.

“If you support competition in the marketplace, you should like this initiative,” said House Minority Leader David J. Toscano, Charlottesville Democrat.

Other lawmakers, including Delegates Jennifer L. McLellan, Richmond Democrat, and Patrick A. Hope, Arlington Democrat, stressed that no matter how one feels about the act politically, Virginia should set up its own exchange, lest the federal government do it for them.

The exchanges, which are required under the new law, are marketplaces in which people and small businesses can purchase insurance and browse plans. The state estimates that 520,000 Virginians will gain insurance coverage through the law — 420,000 through the expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor, and an additional 100,000 through private insurance.

Delegate Terry G. Kilgore, Washington Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Commerce and Labor, has signaled his support for establishing an exchange should the Affordable Care Act be upheld in court.

Virginia has already received $1 million in federal money for planning the exchange. There is a June 29, 2012, deadline to apply for a grant to create and operate one, though it is anticipated that the deadline will be extended.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in March on whether the so-called “individual mandate” requiring nearly every American to eventually purchase health insurance or pay a penalty is unconstitutional.

Mr. McDonnell, a Republican and frequent critic of the law, has said that his administration would plan for setting up an exchange under current law, and would favor legislation to set one up only if the federal law is upheld as constitutional.

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