Benefit exchange a healthy idea

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By Greg Romberg

Editor’s note: This column was written before Rep. Stephens suggested an amendment to SB200 that Colorado’s health exchange law not take effect unless Colorado requests a waiver from the federal health care act. The suggested amendment is opposed by both Gov. Hickenlooper and Sen. Boyd and makes passage of the bill unlikely.

It’s good that virtue is its own reward, as that may be all Betty Boyd and Amy Stephens get from sponsoring legislation to establish health benefit exchanges in Colorado.
Boyd, a Democratic senator from Lakewood who serves as president pro tem of the Senate and chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, and Stephens, a Republican representative from Monument who is the House majority leader, have introduced Senate Bill 200 to put the wheels in motion to establish health benefit exchanges in Colorado.
Stephens and Boyd spent months working with the governor’s office to find enough common ground to introduce a bill that each found acceptable.
You’d be hard-pressed to find two legislators more philosophically different. Boyd is a liberal Democrat who worked at Lutheran Family Services before being elected. Stephens is a conservative Republican who worked at Focus on the Family before she was elected. The beauty of health exchanges is that people from such diverse backgrounds and points of view could all come to the conclusion that this vehicle can help address their concerns.
Health benefit exchanges are mechanisms where individuals and small businesses can pool their resources and choose from a variety of health insurance options that would otherwise be unavailable to them because of their small sizes. Republicans had touted them as a market-based approach to providing health insurance to more Americans. Democrats saw them as a vehicle for universal health care coverage. A provision in the federal health care bill requires states to show they are ready to implement a health benefit exchange program by 2013 or a federally run exchange program will be imposed on them.
And that’s what has made Stephens’ life difficult. Despite the fact that Republicans had pushed for this mechanism and that Stephens had been exploring it prior to enactment of the federal law, she has faced criticism from within her own party that she is working to implement Obamacare. She’s even been dubbed a RINO (Republican in name only) by some critics. Anyone who knows, or has even ever talked to her, knows this label is a ludicrous representation of her, as she is among the most conservative members of the legislature. Stephens has conducted a public meeting in her district and hosted a news conference with representatives of the stateís business organizations to defend her sponsorship. Boyd has faced criticism as well, but it has been neither as personal nor as vociferous.
Regardless of whether people support the federal health care law or not, it makes imminent sense for Colorado to proceed with legislation to establish health benefit exchanges. If, as is overwhelmingly likely, the federal law takes effect, Colorado consumers are much better served by an exchange crafted to meet Colorado-specific issues than having a federal solution imposed upon them. And if opponents of the federal law are successful in overturning it by either legislation or litigation, we still benefit by finding ways to get more Coloradans’ health needs insured.
Boyd and Stephens are to be commended for working to get us in front of this issue. Their colleagues should pass Senate Bill 200 and Gov. John Hickenlooper should sign it into law.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.