House backs authorizing SCC to oversee health plans on exchange [Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.]

By Markus Schmidt, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Feb. 15--By a 64-35 vote, the House of Delegates on Thursday passed legislation authorizing the State Corporation Commission to oversee insurers and health plans offered on a health benefits exchange that the federal government will begin operating in Virginia next year.

Gov. Bob McDonnell has said that he will support Senate Bill 922, sponsored by Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, which the House Commerce and Labor Committee adopted on a 17-5 vote on Monday.

The same committee in the Senate approved an identical bill, House Bill 1769, proposed by Terry G. Kilgore, R-Scott, by a 10-5 vote.

McDonnell on Thursday notified the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that Virginia will assume management of health plans on the exchange, as long as the federal government pays the full bill.

"The commonwealth has been clear that it will default to the federal exchange and allow Washington to pay for this costly new bureaucracy," McDonnell said in a statement.

"However, it is vital that any health insurance issuer in Virginia meets our established certification standards and conducts business in compliance with our long-standing regulatory framework to protect our citizens. Therefore, we have worked with HHS (the Department of Health and Human Services) to ensure that we can retain that portion of oversight under a federal exchange going forward.

"The PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) is the law of the land, and Virginia will comply with its mandates. However, I remain vigilant in ensuring that Virginia will not bear the financial burden of establishing this new bureaucracy only to be given limited ability to manage its outcomes. Virginia is focused on establishing safeguards to protect and serve our citizens under a federally managed exchange."

House and Senate committees had endorsed the legislation after amending it to make clear that the SCC's role would not commit Virginia to running its own exchange under the act.

The amendment was a compromise to satisfy concerns by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who said last week he was worried about potentially committing the state to operating its own health benefits exchange under the federal law.

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Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, said he would not vote for the legislation because it would make Virginia an accomplice of the federal government. "I don't care what the attorney general says about this, but we are becoming servants of Washington by administering this policy that we don't want," Marshall said.

"This is not any different than what Washington would require under the Affordable Care Act simply because we are erecting this structure here," Marshall said. "I don't understand why we are passing this." Marshall suggested that instead, the federal government should simply enforce the law.

Kilgore disagreed with Marshall's assessment. "This allows Virginia more control," he said. "We are much better off doing it that way. The attorney general was pretty comfortable with the language in the amendment," he said.

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