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"Fox Guarding the Hen House" of Illinois Health Reform?

October 3, 2011

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Will the proverbial fox be guarding the hen house in Illinois? One of the next steps for the Affordable Care Act in Illinois is setting up the Health Benefit Exchange that will help about 1 million uninsured residents and small businesses get coverage. This week, a legislative committee finalizes its recommendations on the Exchange. One big issue is who should sit on its governing board. The insurance industry has asked to be represented, saying it has expertise to offer.

However, Jim Duffet, executive director of the Campaign for Better Health Care, points out that that would be a conflict of interest.

"Those who are going to be profiting off a million plus more Illinoisans, it's fair and fine for them to be on an advisory committee, but they shouldn't be around the table making decisions."

Jennifer Creasey, associate state director with the legislative office of Illinois AARP, agrees, saying consumer interests need to be protected.

"We don't think that anyone should be on the board that will profit from insurance products."

Duffet says he's also concerned because, according to the State Journal-Register, the four co-chairs of the bipartisan committee have already received more than $70,000 from the health insurance industry this year. They say the money will not influence their votes; Blue Cross/Blue Shield is quoted saying "it supports political candidates that share the health policy interest of its members."

Another sticky issue will be funding the Exchange. When federal funding runs out in 2016, it is expected to cost close to $90 million a year. The committee is looking at a variety of options, including fees for consumers and fees for insurers.

Duffet says the fees should come out of insurance reserve funds.

"We have insurers today who've got reserves of 1100, 1400, 1500 percent - $30 billion that they're sitting on."

Gov. Quinn wants Health Benefit Exchange legislation passed during the fall veto session at the end of this month, to make sure that the state gets its paperwork in to Washington, D.C., in time to qualify for millions of dollars in federal subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL