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Time Running Short for NY Health Insurance Exchange Plan

June 15, 2011

ALBANY, N.Y. - Gov. Andrew Cuomo has introduced his version of New York's Health Insurance Exchange plan this week, and lawmakers are working against a Monday deadline if they want to enact it.

The health exchange would provide much-needed, one-stop shopping for more than 1 million New Yorkers who don't get insurance through their employers, says Heidi Siegfried, director of health policy at New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage. For many, she says, it can be confusing to both find and keep affordable, quality health insurance.

"If you lose your job, if you have a disability and you're not sure you can work anymore, or you are trying to get coverage for your child, it can be tough. That could really change in 2014, if New York passes legislation this session."

Opponents prefer to call the plan "ObamaCare" and Republican governors in several states have gone to court in an effort to declare it unconstitutional. Cuomo proposes having the state set up its own exchange. That means, Siegfried says, that the state can call the shots but can still access tens of millions of dollars in federal funding for affordable health care - if the legislation passes.

Much of the debate in Albany has centered on what role insurance companies should play in the new health exchange. The Senate's plan allows them to help run the exchange, which Siegfried believes could hurt consumers.

"Providers and insurers can be on the advisory committee; but we don't want to see them actually involved with the governance of the exchange. We think that there needs to be stronger conflict-of-interest provisions."

Another issue facing lawmakers, Siegfried says, is whether to give the health exchange the authority to negotiate with health-care providers on behalf of consumers.

"That's a power that the governor gives the exchange and the Senate bill does not - to be able to use the purchasing power of the people that will be buying insurance in the exchange, to negotiate affordable coverage and quality coverage."

The texts of both proposals are online. Senate Bill 5652 is at open.nysenate.gov, and Governor's Program Bill 12 is at wordpress.com.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY