Rep. John Zerwas writes an op-ed extolling the virtues of the health insurance exchange bill he’s filed.
While it is no secret that I oppose the federal health care reform bill, if we don’t act now to create the Texas Health Insurance Connector, our state could be forced to cede regulatory control of a significant chunk of its health insurance market to the federal government. The desire to avoid such oversight has generated broad support for the connector, which I am proposing in House Bill 636. In addition to members of both political parties, a variety of groups that don’t usually agree on issues have come forward to support keeping Texas in charge of its health insurance market through the passage of HB 636. Those groups include the Texas Association of Business, Texas Hospital Association, Texas Medical Association, Texas Restaurant Association and two Texas health insurance industry groups.
Why must we do this? Among the provisions of the federal health care reforms is a requirement that an organized health insurance market known as an American Health Benefit Exchange be established in every state to provide coverage for U.S. citizens or legal immigrants who do not have access to affordable employer-based coverage. Each state must demonstrate by 2013 that it will have the structure in place to operate its exchange or the federal government will establish and manage it for that state. The Texas Health Insurance Connector, a simplified health insurance market, would serve as our state’s exchange.
Although I support the efforts by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and others to have the health care bill ruled unconstitutional, the connector proposal is more about what’s best for Texas and less about what the federal government has passed. It’s about ensuring that Texas maintains regulatory oversight over what could end up being a large segment of its health insurance market.
The exchange concept did not originate with Obamacare. The idea was first proposed in the 1970s, and the model is being used in such politically opposite states as Utah and Massachusetts. Because of the federal government’s 2013 deadline, our current legislative session may provide us the only opportunity to take action to keep the federal government out of our health-insurance market.
I’ve already said something nice about Zerwas and HB636, so I’ll just take a moment to note his almost defensive touting of his Republican bona fides in these paragraphs. It’s almost as if he’s a bit bashful about proposing legislation that would make it easier for someone to get health insurance, which is certainly understandable given the direction of the modern day Republican Party and its hostility to the concept of universal coverage. Be that as it may, if it weren’t for “Obamacare”, none of this would be a topic for discussion. In four regular legislative sessions under unified Republican control, the state hasn’t done a damn thing to improve access to health care; indeed, the two most notable achievements in that time were slashing CHIP in 2003 and settling the Frew lawsuit over Texas’ insufficient Medicaid payments in 2007. None of the bills Zerwas filed in 2009 had anything to do with insurance exchanges, which as he notes existed as a concept well before they became mandatory. It would be the same thing this year if the Affordable Care Act passed by President Obama and the Democratic Congress hadn’t forced Texas Republicans to do something. See this Trib interview with Rep. Zerwas for more.