Committee considers how to oversee federal health exchange; Foley faults DHHS

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February 19, 2013 - 5:52pm

What Nebraska can do to make sure Washington listens to concerns about federally-subsidized health insurance policies that are supposed to begin next year was the subject of a public hearing before the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee Tuesday.

Starting January 1 of next year, people whose employers don’t offer insurance that meets federal standards of affordability and coverage will be eligible to get subsidized coverage on a so-called health insurance exchange. That’s the term for a marketplace used in the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Subsidies will be available on a sliding scale, for people with household incomes between the federal poverty level and four times that amount: For a family of three, that’s an income of between about $20,000 and $80,000 per year.

Gov. Dave Heineman decided last year to let the federal government operate the exchange in Nebraska, which he said would be cheaper than the state doing it.

To watch over that operation, Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist said the state should form a 12-member commission, including representatives of consumers, business, health care, and rural areas. "

I firmly believe we should create this commission so that we have a voice in this process – the stakeholders have a voice – and it would ease the process of working side by side with the federal government as they create a new health insurance marketplace in Nebraska," Nordquist said.

By one estimate, more than 67,000 Nebraskans could get insurance from the exchange initially, rising to more than 230,000 during the next five years. There are also provisions to help businesses with fewer than 50 employees get insurance cheaper by pooling risks.

Jon Bailey of the Center for Rural Affairs says the uninsured, small businesses, and moderate income families are disproportionately concentrated in rural areas. To a large extent, Bailey said, "the health insurance exchanges are really meant for rural people. And so they have to work for rural areas, so it’s good to have a rural representative on this commission to bring out any issues, any problems, that rural people are facing."

No one spoke in opposition to the bill.

On another matter Tuesday, State Auditor Mike Foley released an audit that said the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services failed to collect more than $1.8 million in federal funds the state was entitled to, between 1996 and 2006.

Because of what he called that "glaring error," Foley said state taxpayers paid extra for those programs in adoption assistance and other areas of child welfare.

In response, the Department said while it in no way minimizes the possible loss of any federal dollars, it now uses a better accounting system. It said it claimed and got $114.2 million of the $116 million federal dollars for which it was eligible in the 10 year period




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