Bi-partisan action on health care

This week I had the opportunity to talk with David Black, South Carolina’s new Director of the Department of Insurance. First impression—he’s very tall. Second impression—congenial, intelligent, and well informed on issues in spite of only being on the job for a few weeks. Did I mention his height?

Mr. Black made it clear that his agency was moving forward with the nearly $2.5 million in planning grants it has received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for implementing some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I talked about these grants in my February 25th blog.

This is very good news and reflects Governor Haley’s recent comment that the ACA is the law of the land.

We found common ground on the health insurance exchange the ACA instructs to be in place by 2014. A healthy public discussion on how the state should establish a transparent market place for individuals and employees of small businesses to purchase health insurance is productive. Even if the ACA didn’t exist, a South Carolina health insurance exchange is a good idea.

This leads me to the biggest legislative health care news of the week. A House Ways and Means subcommittee yesterday voted unanimously (yes, that means a bi-partisan vote) to send a bill creating a health insurance exchange to the full Committee. The bill that will go before the full Committee probably next week is a slightly amended version sponsored by Republican Brian White. The original bill, filed on February 24, was sponsored by Democrats Harold Mitchell and Gilda Cobb-Hunter. Now 23 other Republicans and Democrats have signed onto the bill including Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Cooper (R-Anderson).

This fast action on a well designed bill in the House is significant because a health insurance exchange needs to be operating by the middle of 2013 so that it can meet the January 1, 2014 deadline set in the ACA. Important and controversial bills usually take 3 or more years to be enacted. We simply do not have that much time.

The House should be congratulated for its quick action. If it can move the bill to the Senate soon, the subcommittee hearing process in that body most likely will allow for that healthy public discussion of how the insurance exchange should operate for our state. Passage of a bill early next year (or possibly even this year) would put us on track to provide South Carolinians with an exchange that should increase competition in health insurance and help us make better informed decisions as to the coverage we want.

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