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January 30. 2012 10:42PM

NH industry group supports health insurance exchange

MANCHESTER — A group of health insurers, businesses, chambers of commerce and the Business and Industry Association called Monday for the state Senate to pass a bill sponsored by Sen. Ray White, R-Bedford, to create a state health insurance exchange.

“Whether or not business leaders supported the original intent and passage of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), they support being prepared and taking the necessary steps to plan for a state-based health insurance exchange should the ACA remain the law of the land,” the group said in a statement.

Paula Rogers, government relations director for Anthem Blue Cross-Blue Shield New Hampshire, which supports the bill, said in a telephone interview, “We think it’s crafted in an efficient manner to do the job that would need to be done under the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “It’s minimally intrusive to the competitive market; it can be disassembled in an orderly fashion if the Affordable Care Act provisions that pertain to it were found unconstitutional,” she said.

The bill was tabled by the Senate earlier this month.

This bill establishes the New Hampshire health benefit exchange as a public corporation. The bill also establishes an exchange board to provide procedures to facilitate the exchange’s purpose, which is to assist in the purchase and sale of qualified health plans and to meet the requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The insurance commissioner is granted rule-making authority for the purposes of the bill.

In December, the Executive Council voted to reject a $333,000 exchange planning contract, and this month a House committee voted to return the $330,000 to the federal government. That would bring to $1 million the total being returned by Legislature.

“By creating a state exchange, we agree to the price tag that comes with it and surrender local control of our health care to the federal government,” House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, said in statement.

“The U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear the Obamacare case until March — it wouldn’t make sense to waste taxpayer money, federal or otherwise, on implementing a system that might be found unconstitutional,” he said.

“House Bill 1297 would effectively stop Obamacare in New Hampshire by prohibiting state officials from aiding the federal government in implementing a state exchange,” O’Brien said.

But exchange supporters said if the Affordable Care Act provisions concerning state exchanges are upheld New Hampshire will cede control to a federal exchange if doesn’t prepare now.

BIA spokesman Adrienne Rupp said, “In business, you can’t just assume something is going to happen. You need to be prepared for contingencies. If the ACA is not overturned, if all or even parts are left intact, New Hampshire should be in a position to respond to those criteria in the ACA.”

Bill sponsor White could not be reached immediately for comment.

State Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny said, “It’s just my sort of caution that if we do nothing and the law stays as it is written, we’re going to have a federal exchange.

“What I do know is we would lose control,” he said.

Besides the BIA, supporters of exchange preparedness include Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in New Hampshire, CGI Employee Benefits Group, City Fuel Co. Inc., Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care of New England, MVP Health Care, New Hampshire Association of Insurance Agents, New Hampshire Automobile Dealers Association, Northeast Delta Dental and Ski NH.

Because the insurance department was blocked from using planning funds, it never moved ahead with exchange planning, Sevigny said.

In a press release Monday, the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire argued against participating in exchange planning .

“The cloud of uncertainty created by President Obama and the Democratic Congress won’t go away just because we accept Obamacare by creating a state health insurance exchange,” Carolyn McKinney, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, said. “In fact, these exchanges will distort the market, which will make for even more uncertainty.”