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Virginia turns to implementing federal health-care law

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Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the core of the federal health-care reform, Virginia must turn to creating its own health-benefits exchange.

And while some of Virginia’s top state officials opposed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – including its own lawsuit against the constitutionality of the law—the state has already taken steps to set up its own health insurance exchange.

Joe Wilson, owner of PermaTreat Pest Control in Fredericksburg and a member of the Virginia Health Reform Initiative Advisory Council, says the council has been working to get ready for deadlines under the new federal law, while other states haven’t followed suit. “I’m pleased that we have put as much work into the effort to set up a health insurance exchange as we have,” he says. “We’re probably in better shape than some other states in being ahead of the curve. Republican states like Texas and Florida were banking on the law being thrown out.”

It’s up to the General Assembly to accept the recommendations of the council. “We figured it was in our best interest to operate on the basis that the law would be upheld,” he says.

The federal health-care law requires states to create their own health benefits exchanges to offer competitive insurance rates for employees of companies that do not provide health insurance. States have until November to decide whether they will implement their own exchanges. The federal government will operate exchanges for states who do not establish their own.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, who opposed the health-care law, has not indicated if or when he would call the General Assembly into special session. “Virginia will evaluate the steps necessary to comply with the law,” McDonnell said in a statement. “While we have awaited this decision, planners have been working to identify necessary resources and issues to be addressed to ensure Virginia implements this flawed law in the most effective and least costly and burdensome way possible. In coming months, Virginia’s health-care leaders will work to develop the best possible system to meet the healthcare needs of our citizens.”

Despite the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the individual mandate, employers are still facing rapidly rising health-care costs, says Wilson. “Last year my increase [as an employer] was 10 percent. That’s unsustainable. We continue to shift more costs to the employee.”

Still, some believe implementation of the federal will address rising health-care costs.The question of cost shouldn’t scare employers, says Etti Baranoff, associate professor of insurance and finance at Virginia Commonwealth University. By upholding the individual mandate, the Supreme Court guaranteed that money would flow to insurance companies, which is the true private-sector answer. And she doesn’t expect Congress will succeed in reversing the law. “By the time the election comes it’s unlikely they’ll have support, because business people will realize businesses are not closing. It’s not going to affect the economy. On the contrary, it will give people the freedom to look for jobs.”


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