Oregon health care reform approved by Senate

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Oregon Health InsuranceOregon is one step closer to passing a bill that would allow for the creation of a health insurance exchange. Late last week, the House Health Care Committee approved the bill, which will now await a final vote in the Senate. The bill will also establish a public agency that will oversee the exchange and regulate rate changes therein. The agency will be funded from a portion of fees collected by insurance companies that are participating in the exchange program. State officials expect that the program will be operational in time for the 2014 deadline.

While the bill has garnered a fair amount of bipartisan support amongst politicians, some consumer and business groups had reservations over the establishment of an exchange. These groups claim that one of the provisions of the bill prohibits the agency founded to regulate the exchange from leveraging the buying power of the public to negotiate lower costs. Legislative lawyers, however, determined that this was not the case, as the agency has full authority not only to approve rates but also negotiate on behalf of the people for lower rates.

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Only three Republicans voted against the bill – Julie Parrish, Jim Weidner and Bill Kennemer – each saying that they were not given sufficient evidence to believe the exchange would lower insurance costs as expected. Weidner was particularly cross with the passing of the bill as he considers the overall health care reform to be invalid.

Those charged with leading the agency overseeing the exchange will present a business plan to the Senate in February of next year.

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