The House passed the Oregon Health Insurance Exchange bill Tuesday with a strong bipartisan majority of 48-12. Such an exchange has been in the forefront of health reforms in Oregon since it was first proposed by the Oregon Health Policy Commission in 2007. Since then we've been steadily marching forward to this day.
Here's what will change once the Exchange is up and running in 2014:
- Consumers will no longer be at the mercy of a confusing health insurance market when they buy health care coverage. They will have clear, accurate information so they know what their money is buying and if they have the quality of plan they want.
- Small businesses that want to provide health care coverage to their employees will get the help they need. Instead of having to hire a health insurance expert they can give their employees a set amount of money to use on the Exchange.
- Insurance will become more affordable. Small businesses and individuals who qualify will have access to tax credits or subsidies to help pay the high cost of coverage.
- For the first time, insurance companies will be competing on a level playing field - competing for business under strict standards for quality and affordability.
And just as important, explicit in the legislation is that the exchange must work for the public interest for the benefit of consumers and be accountable to the public.
It may seem as though 2014 is a long time away, but it will come quickly and there is a lot of work to do between now and then. First, though, I want to take a moment to thank the members of the Oregon Health Policy Board and each and every person at OHA who has worked this year - and in previous years - to help create Oregon's Health Insurance Exchange. This dedicated group of people has worked tirelessly in the belief that everyone in Oregon should have access to quality, affordable health care.
One other item of note: the Oregon Health Authority budget passed the legislative Ways and Means committee. Next week we will have more information about the budget and what it means for our agency, our clients and providers. As I have discussed many times, the current budget situation brought many hard choices. The budget contains difficult cuts to the rates we pay to providers and other reductions.
These are the times we live in. As we celebrate the great news about creation of an Oregon Health Insurance Exchange, we prepare to help our clients and those who provide services manage through some tough budget realities. As we go through this I will continue to keep you informed to ensure that everyone has exactly the same understanding of what the budget cuts are, when they go into effect and how they will be implemented. More on this next week.