Virginia Organizing calls on GA to move forward with health-benefits exchange

Several pieces of legislation on the creation of a Virginia Health Benefits Exchange will be considered in this year’s General Assembly session. The statewide grassroots organization Virginia Organizing is asking legislators to move forward on the creation of a consumer-friendly Health Benefits Exchange and supports several Exchange bills including: SB 383 (McEachin), HB 357 (McClellan) and HB 402 (Hope).

Health care reform advocates are concerned that Gov. Bob McDonnell has recently decided to suspend implementation of a Virginia Health Benefits Exchange in favor of waiting for a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the health care law, expected this June. The federal government will set up Exchanges for states that cannot prove by January 2013 that they are able to run their own.

“Gov. McDonnell took the high road with setting up the Virginia Health Reform Initiative to make sure that the Commonwealth was prepared for all the eventualities of the new health care law. We are disappointed that he is now ignoring months of work and recommendations from his own handpicked health reform panel by not moving forward with an Exchange. There are serious consequences for not moving forward with a Health Benefits Exchange, including the loss of millions in federal dollars and the flexibility to create an exchange design specifically designed for the Commonwealth,” said Ray Scher of the Virginia Organizing Health Care Committee.

In a letter sent Wednesday to members of the Virginia General Assembly as well as Gov. McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia Organizing outlines Exchange priorities that center around holding health insurance companies accountable in order to lower costs and create better quality product for Virginians.

The text of the letter is below.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to write to you today on the need for full implementation of the national health care reform law in Virginia.  Virginia Organizing is a 17-year-old statewide grassroots organization established to empower Virginians who have traditionally had little or no voice in their communities to work democratically for change.

In 2008 and 2009, our organization canvassed over 300,000 residences across Virginia, gathering information about problems facing health care consumers.  More than 70 percent of the Virginians surveyed were in favor of major health care reform. Hundreds of those surveyed reported struggling with debt from health care expenses.  As a result, Virginia Organizing has made a major commitment to educate the public about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and to see that it is fully implemented in our state.

Our members and citizens throughout the Commonwealth are already benefiting from the new law: adults are accessing the high-risk pool, pre-existing condition limits have been eliminated, and insurance is being provided for young people up to the age of 26 through their parents’ coverage. We have an interest in keeping these benefits and in accessing the additional benefits provided by full implementation of the ACA in future years.

The health care crisis and growing difficulties faced by the uninsured in the nation have been well documented.  Unfortunately, Virginia has not been spared from the growing problem. Virginia is one of the 10 wealthiest states in the country; however, the Commonwealth fails to provide adequate support for those who cannot access or afford health coverage, ranking 29th nationwide in the percentage of its population who are insured.  There are also approximately one million uninsured Virginians including nearly one in ten of Virginia’s children.

The picture is not much better for those who are insured.  The cost of insurance has increased dramatically and working Virginians are paying for more of that cost.  Virginians pay a higher percentage of employer-based insurance premiums than workers in any other state.  This contributed to the fact that over 782,000, or 13 percent of all Virginians, could not see a doctor in 2009 because of cost.  These are just a few of the statistics that illustrate the dire nature of health care for many Virginians.

Virginia Organizing has been actively engaged in the 18-month process initiated by Governor Bob McDonnell’s Virginia Health Care Reform Initiative and its six working groups.  We are not totally in favor of all of their recommendations but we appreciate the hard work that has been put in.  This is why we were disappointed to recently learn that the Governor has chosen not to introduce legislation during the 2012 General Assembly session on health care reform implementation.  We have joined many other leaders in urging Virginia to move ahead during the upcoming session to create and implement our own Health Benefits Exchange, regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the individual mandate.  To do so would be a responsible and appropriate step toward addressing the health care needs of our citizens.

We urge you to support the state Health Benefits Exchange legislation during the upcoming session.  Voting to fully implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in a timely manner will help all Virginians receive the positive benefits of the Act.

Thank you for considering our recommendations on this important public policy issue. Please let us know if you need any additional information.  You can reach our Legislative Director, Ben Greenberg, at (804) 467-8212 or via email at bengreenberg@earthlink.net.

We look forward to working with you during the upcoming session.

Sincerely,

Sandra Cook
Chairperson


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