Ohio Faces Federal Deadline To Set Up Health Insurance Exchange

Listen to the Story

Ohio Constitution(Photo: file photo)
Ohio Constitution(Photo: file photo)

There’s a hard deadline coming in the federal health insurance law – states need to take some steps by the end of next year, or the federal government will do it for them. Supporters of the law fear that deadline will be missed. But opponents say the state shouldn’t be trying to comply.

Attorney General Mike DeWine has said Ohio needs to assume the federal health insurance law will be upheld, so the state should be taking steps on setting up the health insurance exchanges, where consumers would go to shop for and buy insurance. But for the last few weeks, those in charge of setting up the state’s exchange have been vague about what’s happening. Here’s Eric Poklar with the Governor’s Office of Health Transformation:

“We’ll continue to work through these issues and ultimately determine a course of action that minimizes federal interference in Ohio’s health care marketplace and gives individuals and businesses as much control as possible over the future of their health care.”

And here’s Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, who is the head of the Ohio Department of Insurance.

“We are continuing to understand and do the research necessary to make good decisions for Ohio.”

Supporters of the federal health insurance law say they’re not hearing something in those answers – whether Ohio is setting up its exchange or not. Col Owens is the co-chair of Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage.

“The clock is ticking. Ohio is losing precious time to plan for and design a health insurance exchange to meet the needs of Ohioans.”

Advocates point out that the federal law is still in place, though it’s being reviewed by the US Supreme Court. And Cathy Levine with the Universal Health Care Network of Ohio says there’s a lot of work to do to set up its exchange in a short period of time.

“And if Ohio doesn’t act, the federal government will come in and do it for us, and we will have a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter, lowest common denominator exchange instead of one Ohio creates for Ohio.”

But the snail’s pace that the state is moving is deliberate, says the lawyer who led the Tea Party backed constitutional amendment approved by voters that says Ohioans can’t be compelled to participate in a government-run health insurance system. Maurice Thompson at the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law says there’s no reason to set up an exchange till the US Supreme Court rules.

“Even if Obamacare is constitutional, the state still cannot set up an exchange that violates the terms of Issue 3, the Health Care Freedom Amendment. So any exchange they set up that would kind of take away choice as we defined it there would be a real problem and we would take legal action.”

And as for the scenario that the law is upheld and Ohio has to submit to an exchange set up by the feds – that’s fine with Thompson.

“Making Obamacare harder to enforce is more likely to make it go away. So we’d rather the federal government go ahead and try to enforce the exchange from the federal level in all 50 states rather than our state officials cooperate in violating the state constitution.”

There are grants available to help states set up exchanges, and those who support the federal law say Ohio is missing out on that money. But Thompson says if the state accepted grants, it would be selling out its citizens to set up an exchange that Ohio voters clearly said they don’t want.