The day after the Oregon legislature finished voting to create an Oregon Health Insurance Exchange, as required by the federal Affordable Care Act, a three-judge federal panel in Atlanta heard arguments from 26 states seeking to have the federal law declared unconstitutional. The act, better known as ObamaCare, seeks to impose sweeping changes on this country’s health insurance and health care systems. One key provision would require everyone to either purchase insurance by 2014 or face a fine.
Those 26 states argued that the federal government has no legitimate power to require individuals to purchase any product, in this case health insurance. All three judges who heard the case last Wednesday seemed at least somewhat receptive to that argument. Chief Judge Joel Dubina asked, “If we uphold the individual mandate in this case, are there any limits on Congress’ power left?” Judge Stanley Marcus wanted to know, “…[G]oing back to the first principles, is there anything out there that actually suggests that Congress can compel a private party to buy a private product on the open market if they’re not disposed to do so?”
Oregon is being offered 48 million federal dollars to set up an insurance exchange to help our citizens comply with that federal mandate. Some legislators voted for the bill because they feared that if we don’t set up an exchange on our own terms, the feds will impose a less palatable one on us when the individual mandate takes effect.
Whether we ever get that $48 million is open to question. The U.S. House voted not to fund such grants, but that decision may be reversed in current Congressional budget deliberations. Whether we eventually get the cash or not, Oregonians will not be well served by an exchange that only helps us purchase policies that our state insurance regulators approve. Some other states have far fewer mandates on similar policies. Many of us could save hundreds of dollars a month if only we were allowed to shop for policies approved by those states.
Any exchange Oregon sets up should increase, not maintain limits on, Oregonians’ insurance policy choices. Then, whether ObamaCare eventually gets overturned or not, our state could lead the way in helping its citizens make informed choices on a wide range of insurance products. Now that would be real insurance reform.