Two bills were filed Wednesday that will have a tremendous impact on how our health care system works, or doesn't work, in North Carolina. These are competing bills that offer radically different visions of how to establish a health benefits exchange.
You can read this editorial for some background. Basically, most people who do not get health insurance through work will purchase coverage through this new entity, called the health benefits exchange.
North Carolina can either set up its own exchange or do nothing and allow the feds to set up an exchange for us. We would like for the state to establish its own exchange. The exchange is a place where individuals and small businesses will band together to get group insurance rates. It is also where people will go for premium tax credits. Consulting firms estimate that more than a million North Carolinians will get coverage through the exchange. That's why it is critical to get this right.
Rep. Jerry Dockham filed a bill that was literally written by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. It creates a feeble exchange that allows for weak consumer protections and is governed by a board stacked with interest groups that either opposed reform (the North Carolina Medical Society), or are actively seeking to repeal health reform (NFIB, Chamber of Commerce), or those with a massive conflict of interest (insurance companies). Oh, did I mention that the board governing the exchange has a permanent seat for Blue Cross? We need to kill this boondoggle before it gets rolling.
Thankfully, Reps. Verla Insko, Larry Hall, Susan Fisher, Tricia Cotham, Diane Parfitt, and Jennifer Weiss filed a different exchange bill. This bill uses language developed after many months of meetings with all major stakeholder groups at the NC Institute of Medicine. It includes a tremendous amount of input from Blue Cross and other insurance companies. It also includes input from consumer groups and physicians and hospitals, etc. Apparently even a small amount of compromise was too much for Blue Cross so they walked away from the IOM bill and wrote their own legislation.
The IOM legislation includes strong consumer protections and an independent board with good conflict of interest language. This board is built around health care experts instead of interest groups that are trying to squash reform.
Dockham's bill would do terrible damage to our health care system. It would weaken the protections afforded by national health reform. And it would keep insurance companies in control of our lives.
Unfortunately Dockham got some Democratic co-sponsors on his bill. I can only hope that they didn't understand what they were signing. This is their notice. And this is your notice to start fighting. We just passed a health care bill that was decades in the making. Don't let Blue Cross rob us of this historic gain.