As Gov. Steve Beshear issued an executive order to establish a state insurance exchange this afternoon, lawmakers voted along party lines against a lease that would have housed employees of the exchange, once again illustrating the divisive nature of the controversial Affordable Care Act. Members of the Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee voted 4-3 against the nearly $300,00-per-year lease, with Sen. Tom Buford of Nicholasville, Sen. Jared Carpenter of Berea, Rep. Steven Rudy of Paducah— all Republicans — voting no, along with Independent Sen. Bob Leeper of Paducah.
Rep. Jim Wayne, Sen. Julian Carroll of Frankfort and and Rep. Jim Glenn of Owensboro, all Democrats, voted yes. Discussion focused on the uncertainty of the cost of implementing provisions in the Affordable Care Act and the state budget.
The committee does not have the power to block the lease permanently, but Beshear will have to go through some additional procedural steps.
The exchange is considered one of the cornerstones of the federal health-care reform law aimed at containing costs by spurring competition among private insurers. It will be a marketplace to shop for different packages of state-approved health insurance and will be available to people who earn up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. To offset the cost of their premiums, those participating in the exchange will receive subsidies in the form of tax credits. The Medicaid program will also fall under the exchange's umbrella.
Small businesses with fewer than 100 employees can also qualify for the exchange, a move that is meant to boost their purchasing power.
Beshear said, "We will work closely with insurers, providers and consumers and other groups to develop a robust, responsive, and user-friendly portal that will help Kentuckians find the coverage that best suits their needs."
He said the exchange will be in operation starting Jan. 1, 2014 as the federal law requires. The state has already received more than $66 million to plan for the exchange. States had the option to run the exchange themselves or have the federal government do so for them. But Audrey Tayse Haynes, secretary for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said Kentucky is better geared to running its own program since it "is more in tune with the unique regional and economic needs of our citizens, as well as the health insurance needs of individuals, Kentucky small businesses and nonprofits." (Read more)