MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Alabama Legislature is trying to get ahead of the federal Affordable Care Act. The House passed a bill establishing the framework for health insurance exchanges in Alabama. But the Governor said the legislation is premature.
The insurance exchanges are required under the federal health care law. They're intended to provide competition among insurance companies, potentially driving costs down for consumers.
"The great opportunity in an insurance marketplace is to provide greater contribution in the market place," said Rep. Greg Wren, R-Montgomery. "Whether it's in the individual market, or the small employer market, that's where the success can be and it's happened across the country."
"It could make a huge difference in Alabama's health care system and our state's budget," said Jim Carnes with Alabama Arise. "One of the things that's driving health care costs is unpaid care for uninsured people, the more coverage we can get for more of those people, then the costs for unpaid care will come down and everyone will see the benefits."
Wren said the state must act now, or the federal government will exercise its right to establish the exchanges in the state.
"Congress gave a deadline of December 31st, 2012 for the states to act," Rep. Wren said. "If the states fail to act, then the federal government will preempt the state of Alabama."
But Governor Robert Bentley will likely veto the bill.
"This legislation is premature. The federal government has yet to establish clear guidelines for a health insurance exchange," said Deputy Communications Director Jeremy King, in a statement to WSFA 12 News. "Also, the federal government has extended some deadlines for putting an exchange together. Plus, the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the constitutionality of the federal health care law. If Supreme Court justices strike down the law as the Governor hopes they will, there will be no need for such an exchange. Either way, there is no need to establish an exchange at this point," the statement went on to say.
"Doing so without clear guidance from Washington would simply be a guessing game. Also, there would still be time in the 2013 session to set up an exchange if the law is upheld. If this legislation is approved in the current session, a veto can be expected."
Wren's bill includes a provision that makes the bill null and void if the U.S. Supreme Court throws out the Affordable Care Act. If it does not, the exchange must be set up by 2014.