Benjamin Lawsky, state superintendent of financial services, is urging lawmakers to adopt legislation that would create a health-insurance exchange in New York. The federal Affordable Care Act requires all states to set up exchanges—marketplaces where individuals and small businesses will go to buy health insurance. They will be able to compare rates, benefits and the quality of plans in an open marketplace, which will encourage insurers to offer better prices and plans, he said. The federal government will establish exchanges for states that don’t do it on their own.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which starts April 1, includes a provision for a health exchange. Lawmakers and the governor are deep in negotiations for the new budget. The Democrat-controlled Assembly supports Cuomo’s proposal, but the measure has been met with resistance in the GOP-led Senate and isn’t in the Senate’s one-house budget resolution. Two Republican senators have introduced legislation that would require a study of the costs and implications of establishing an exchange.
The Assembly passed legislation for an exchange last year after reaching an agreement with the governor and the Senate. The Senate, however, didn’t vote on it because members had a lot of questions. Some Republicans outright opposed the legislation because it is a requirement of what they call “Obamacare.”
Federal grants are available to support the exchange through December 2014, when it must be self-sustaining. New York will not use any of its own funds, according to Lawsky.
Lawsky said the exchange will be good for business and help create jobs, and state officials should move swiftly to get in in place. If the federal government runs the exchange, the state won’t make important decisions about how it would operate and who it would serve. The exchange and its jobs could be located outside the state, he said.
“Affordable health insurance is one of the top issues for businesses, especially small business. New York’s more than 400,000 small businesses are our engines of growth, generating two-thirds of all new jobs. Helping those businesses grow will improve the entire state’s economy. This should not be a Republican or Democratic issue — it’s about jobs,” he said. “If New York waits any longer, the federal government will impose an exchange not tailored to the needs of our small businesses and consumers. Certification for the state exchanges begins in mid-2012 and we must be able to demonstrate we can run it by January 2013. If we don’t start building ours immediately, we will have a federal exchange in 2014.”
The Chamber Alliance of New York State, the Small Business Majority, the New York Health Plan Association and the New York State Association of Health Underwriters are among the groups backing an exchange.
“Healthcare premiums are spiraling out of control and insurance plans are getting more complicated every year. As proposed, the New York health insurance exchange would reduce premium costs and make it easier for small businesses to purchase healthcare insurance,” said Benjamin Geyerhahn, director of special projects for the small-business advocacy group. “The State should seize this historic opportunity to provide relief to New York’s small businesses. Unfortunately, the Senate’s inaction will force federal regulators to seize control of the New York exchange, which no one wants.”
Andrew F. Biernat, president of the Association of Health Underwriters, said legislators should act quickly in passing legislation. “The Empire State has always been a leader and innovator in providing our residents with quality health insurance that takes into account our State’s unique needs,” he said in a statement. “If legislation is not passed soon, the Federal Government will step in and create a Health Insurance Exchange for New York, without taking into account the complexities and uniqueness of the New York State insurance marketplace.”