The state Department of Insurance conducted three open forums across the state last week to discuss Nebraska’s options for the required establishment of health insurance exchanges in accordance with the new federal health care law.
The forums in Gering, Norfolk and Kearney focused on the federally required development and implementation of health insurance exchanges – sets of standardized health care plans that allow individuals to purchase health insurance that qualifies for federal subsidies. Input from the public was encouraged during the local forum.
“We want to know what you think is important,” Christine Neighbors, Deputy Director of the Nebraska Department of Insurance told those attending the forum Thursday at the Gering Civic Center.
According to the Nebraska Department of Insurance, the purpose of the mandated public forums is to solicit information from stakeholders and members of the public regarding the issues surrounding Nebraska’s available options for the planning and development of a Health Insurance Exchange.
The exchanges which are just one facet of the new federal health care law, must be decided upon by Jan. 1, 2013 and operational by Jan. 1, 2014.
Panel members from the Department of Insurance attending the Gering forum included Neighbors; attorney Eric Dunning; J.P. Sabby, a health insurance policy analyst; and Holly Blanchard, life and health administrator. The panel fielded questions and comments from those attending.
Chuck Karpf, a business owner and a member of the board of directors of the Center for Rural Affairs, told the panel one of his concerns was for the elderly.
“They don’t do the Internet, they don’t like to talk on the phone, they want a person there,” Karpf said.
Steve Hetzel, president of RCI asked if the Department of Insurance is looking at any other states’ plans after which to model Nebraska’s Exchange. Sabby explained that they are looking at all states, and at the federal employee healthcare exchange, the Wisconsin state employee healthcare exchange as well as California’s state employee health care exchange.
When Hetzel asked the panel members if there was a preference of where the exchange might be housed, Neighbors replied, “We want to know what the citizens of Nebraska think they want to see.”
An attendee who identified herself as an administrator of a small nursing home commented that the majority of people who work for her qualify for Medicaid and asked how an exchange is going to help in that respect.
When told that individuals could access Medicaid through the exchange she commented, “So you’re adding another layer of people to access the same program they could access before.”
There were additional questions and comments by health care providers, insurance agents and individuals referring to other portions of the Federal Health Care Law.
The panel stated more than once that they don’t have all the answers, but do have many of the same questions as the Nebraska citizens. They are waiting for directives and information from the federal government on several aspects of the Federal Health Care Law.
Neighbors said they hope to have more answers during their next round of meetings to be scheduled in a few months.
“States are moving forward because it’s still the law of the land until they resolve this at the Supreme Court level,” Neighbors concluded.
More information on the Federal Health Care Law and Health Insurance Exchanges can be found at Nebraska Department of Insurance website, www.doi.ne.gov.