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House lawmakers approve insurance exchange plan

JACKSON — The Mississippi House has approved a plan that would allow employers to buy group health insurance policies anywhere in the country, not just from Mississippi insurers.

The House, by an 83-33 margin yesterday, passed a bill to enact a health insurance exchange in Mississippi.

Backers say the health insurance exchange is a critical part of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Aaron Sisk, senior staff attorney with the Mississippi Department of Insurance, says the exchanges are “a marketplace for health insurance … a one-stop shop.”

Presumably, people can get health insurance cheaper in the exchanges because the large volume of customers will drive down costs.

A similar bill is pending in the Mississippi Senate.

Under the federal law, states can either set up their own exchanges or leave it to the federal government to establish one.

Gov. Haley Barbour, who has filed a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the federal healthcare law, supports the exchanges and is requesting $1.5 million to put one in place in Mississippi.

Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, said no state money would be needed for the exchange this year. He said that before 2016, the federal government would pay at least 95 percent of the cost of the exchange and might pay it all.

He said Insurance Commission Mike Chaney already has received a $1-million federal grant to begin work on enacting the exchange.

After 2016, the exchanges are required to be self-supporting.

The law calls for the exchanges to be up and running by Jan. 2014. States are supposed to have their exchanges in place by Jan. 2013.

“All we are setting up right now is the framework,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to get out in front of this. This provides us with a mechanism to get started.”

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