The Washington Times - January 18, 2012, 02:23PM

A new coalition aimed at promoting better consumer choices for Virginians in the health care arena are advocating that a consumer-driven health benefit exchange be set up in the state.

The exchanges, which are marketplaces where people can shop for and purchase health insurance that are part of President Obama’s health care overhaul, are already stoking political fires in the 2012 session.


Some believe that no action should be taken on setting them up until the U.S. Supreme Court decides the constitutionality of the law, while other legislators have proposed establishing an exchange within the State Corporation Commission.

But Bill Kallio, State Director for the AARP, said they would prefer to see an exchange set up as an entity completely separate from any existing state institution. Legislation introduced by Democrats would do that and create an exchange as a quasi-governmental institution based on recommendations from Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Virginia Health Reform Initiative.

Mr. Kallio said he would favor a bill that avoids appointing members to the exchange that could have potential conflicts of interest, such as representatives from the insurance industry.

A poll released by the coalition of groups collectively known as “Virginia Consumer Voices for Health Care” showed that a majority of Virginians want to see consumers or consumer advocates comprising a majority on an exchange’s governing board, while two-thirds were opposed to having insurance company representatives serve on the board.

The coalition is comprised of groups that include the AARP, the Virginia Poverty Law Center and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy

“You want to have it removed from as many political steps as possible,” said Mr. Kallio. “We really don’t think a health care exchange should be located in an existing government agency.”

Mr. McDonnell’s office has said that it would be premature to pass legislation setting up an exchange during the 2012 session, citing too many variables and unanswered questions from the federal government.

States have until Jan. 1, 2013, to tell the federal Department of Health and Human Services whether they intend to set up their own exchanges. If they do not, the feds will step in and do it for them.