Colorado Moves Ahead on Health Insurance Exchange
Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill earlier this month that sets the stage for the creation of Colorado’s own health insurance exchange. KUNC’s Erin O’Toole talks with Jeff Nuttall, publisher of the Northern Colorado Business Report, about the importance to residents and businesses.
O’Toole: Jeff, I understand it was a rocky road for the measure, but the Colorado legislature did end up passing Senate Bill 200, which was signed by Governor Hickenlooper a few weeks ago. Tell us a little about the bill and what its passage means.
Nuttall: Well, the bill was a bipartisan effort and a compromise between business interests and health reformer hopes, which is something of a miracle in itself. It was co-sponsored by Senate Democrat Betty Boyd and House Republican Amy Stephens. And while it had fairly strong opposition from conservative opponents of the federal health care law, it got a push over the top by business interests like the National Federation of Independent Businesses – NFIB - who saw the bill as a way to maintain as much control over the creation of the health exchange as possible. The bill’s passage now ensures that Colorado remains on target in meeting the timetable of the health care reform law.
O’Toole: What would have happened if the legislature hadn’t been able to pass Senate Bill 200?
Nuttall: Well, that was the part that seemed to get enough people on board to pass it. If Colorado could not set up its own health insurance exchange, the state would have been forced to be part of a federally-created exchange and have much less say over how it works.
O’Toole: So what are these health insurance exchanges supposed to do?
Nuttall: Under the federal health care reform act signed by President Obama last year, every state is supposed to set up a health insurance exchange – or marketplace – where insurance companies can offer their plans and benefits, and consumers – both individuals and businesses – can more easily shop and compare. The basic idea is these exchanges will bring bulk buying power to the marketplace and help reduce rates and lower insurance costs.
O’Toole: Right – it seems to be about giving consumers more power to shop for the best plans, which can be very confusing right now. So how will Colorado’s exchange be set up, then?
Nuttall: Well, that’s the next step. Each state has the freedom to put together its own plan according to its own priorities. Between now and July 1, Gov. Hickenlooper and the legislative leadership is recruiting members of a nine-member board that will oversee the process. The governor gets to pick five of the members and the leadership of both the House and Senate will each pick two members. Also serving on the board as nonvoting members will be the state insurance commissioner and representatives of the offices of Health Care Policy and Financing and Economic Development.
O’Toole: When do these exchanges go into effect?
Nuttall: The nine-member board will go to work this summer to begin crafting how Colorado’s exchange will operate. Its work will include appointing an executive director to administer the exchange, creating operational and financing plans and deciding on the overall structure of the exchange. A number of volunteer groups have already begun focusing on issues the board will look into, such as what factors are most important to small businesses.
The board is supposed to have a plan ready for legislative review by January 2013. Testing of the exchanges is expected to start that summer, with the exchanges up and running by January 1, 2014, according to the requirements of the health care reform act.
O’Toole: So how is Colorado doing in this effort?
Nuttall: Colorado is actually the eighth state to pass enabling legislation to get the process off the ground, but it’s the first state to do so with a divided legislature, as Gov. Hickenlooper pointed out when he signed Senate Bill 200. So Colorado really is one of the leaders at this point.
Jeff Nuttall is the publisher of the Northern Colorado Business Report.