UPDATED: Senate Democrats call for a special General Assembly session to consider a health care exchange
Updated at 2:55 p.m. with comments from the governor’s office.
Two Democratic state senators are requesting Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to call a special session of the General Assembly to establish a state-based health insurance exchange.
As part of the federal health care overhaul – which seems to have been secured by a United States Supreme Court ruling last summer and the re-election of President Barack Obama earlier this month – Virginia must decide whether to a establish a state exchange or default to a federally run exchange. The exchange would serve as a database where individuals and small businesses could shop for insurance coverage.
McDonnell said in the days following the election that the state still lacks sufficient information about a federal insurance exchange to determine which option is better for Virginia. Without that information, he said, Virginia initially will default to a federal exchange and leave open the possibility of setting up its own system.
Initially, the Obama administration has set a Nov.16 deadline to make that decision. Late last week, however, it extended the deadline to Dec. 14.
Today, Virginia Sens. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax County, and Donald McEachin, D-Henrico County, said the governor needs to call the special session to establish a state-based exchange.
“Virginians deserve an exchange that suits their specific needs, not a one-size-fits-all solution from the federal government,” Saslaw said in a news release. “I can’t understand how the self-proclaimed party of limited government would allow the federal government to impose a generic exchange on Virginians.”
McEachin said, “Gov. McDonnell should follow the recommendation of his own expert panel and call the legislature back into session. Virginians have different needs than Texans or Minnesotans, and they deserve an exchange that suits those specific needs.”
McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said Saslaw and McEachin’s news release amounts to “unfortunate theatrics” and said a hastily called special session would amount to “nothing more than a very expensive public relations exercise.”
“There is absolutely no need for a special session,” Martin said. “We are just weeks away from the start of the regular General Assembly session, during which the issue of health care exchanges will be addressed. More importantly, the states are still awaiting critical additional guidance and regulations from the federal government about the financing and implementation of health exchanges, and we are hopeful that we will have that in the next month.”
Virginia received a $1 million federal grant to plan for its own exchange, and a McDonnell-appointed advisory council concluded that an exchange should not be left to the federal government.
But McDonnell said earlier this month there were too many unknowns.
Virginia Sen. Ralph Smith, R-Roanoke County, expressed similar concerns in a phone call today.
“I don’t think the governor or anyone else on my side of the aisle is saying we’re not going to do it,” Smith said. “I think we’re saying give us more information. His responsibility and our responsibility is to get the best bill we can.”
Smith dismissed the call from Saslaw and McEachin as “grandstanding.”
“The regulations are still unfolding,” Smith said. “Sometimes it’s safer to do nothing when you don’t know what the outcome’s going to be. It doesn’t matter how fast you run if you don’t know where you’re going.”
You can read the full release from Saslaw and McEachin after the jump, as well as the full statement from McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin:
– Mason Adams
Virginia Senate Democrats Call for Special Session to Address Creation of Health Insurance Exchange
Democratic Senators call on the Governor to put Virginians’ health care above partisan politics
RICHMOND, VA — Today, the Virginia Senate Democrats called for a special legislative Session to create a state health insurance exchange as provided for under the Affordable Care Act.
Senator Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), Democratic Leader, said, “The Governor needs to call the legislature back into Session now to get a Virginia-based health exchange created. Virginians deserve an exchange that suits their specific needs, not a one-size-fits-all solution from the federal government. I can’t understand how the self-proclaimed party of limited government would allow the federal government to impose a generic exchange on Virginians. We are ready to get to work, and I hope the Governor is too.”
Senator A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico), chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said, “The time for action is right now. Governor McDonnell should follow the recommendation of his own expert panel and call the legislature back into session. Virginians have different needs than Texans or Minnesotans, and they deserve an exchange that suits those specific needs. Democrats stand ready to get to work now to improve access to health care for thousands of Virginians.”
In 2011, the legislature passed HB 2434, which expressed the bipartisan consensus that Virginia should create its own health insurance exchange. The Governor’s own Virginia Health Insurance Reform Initiative stated that a Virginia-based health insurance exchange would be far better than a federally run exchange. And Gov. McDonnell has himself said, “We ought to have a state-based exchange.”
But for nearly two years, Gov. McDonnell and his Republican allies in the legislature have made excuses, putting the health care of thousands of Virginia families at risk.
- Excuse #1: In 2011, Gov. McDonnell claimed that Virginia should wait for the Supreme Court’s judgment of the ACA’s constitutionality.
- Excuse #2: In the summer of 2012, Gov. McDonnell cited uncertainty over the outcome of the presidential election as a reason to delay, saying, “four months from now I may not need” to create a health care exchange, were Mitt Romney to win the presidency.
Both excuses were justified with an explanation: “There is plenty of time to act” in a special session. As recently as February 2012 the Governor stated that a special session could be convened if his excuses ran out.
Now, with deadlines looming, Gov. McDonnell says, “The only logical option for us is to use the federal option.” The Governor’s endless delays have backed Virginia into a corner. We need to act immediately to create a state-run exchange.
Democrats were ready in 2011. Democrats remained ready in 2012. Governor McDonnell should put partisan politics aside and call a special session. Democrats will gladly work with him to create a state-based exchange that works for all Virginians.
December 2011: The McDonnell Administration indicates that it will not seek to set up an exchange in the 2012 legislative session because of uncertainty about the law’s constitutionality and future. Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration indicated last month that it will not ask lawmakers to authorize an exchange during this legislative session. Administration officials said uncertainty about key elements of the federal health care law — including a constitutional challenge to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court — could affect how a state exchange is designed. [Roanoke Times, 1/12/12]
July 2012: McDonnell proposes inaction until after the election, on the grounds that a Romney win would mean he “may not need” to set up an exchange. “I don’t think I can look the taxpayers of Virginia in the eye and say I’m going to spend a lot of your money building exchanges that four months from now I may not need,” Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Va., said on the sidelines of the National Governors Association meeting. [Virginian-Pilot, 7/16/12]
January 2012: The McDonnell administration argues that “there is plenty of time to act” on the insurance exchange issue, potentially during a special session. But the governor says the law also provides ample authority to plan for the exchange over the next year without making decisions on the policy recommendations made last fall by the Virginia Health Reform Initiative Advisory Council. “There is plenty of time to act,” the administration states in a series of “talking points” to lawmakers on why legislation is not needed now. “There is no need for members of the General Assembly to make untimely and unnecessary decisions surrounding creation of an exchange during the 2012 session.” An accompanying two-page legal justification says the legislature could address the policy issues either next year or in a specially called legislative session this year — if the Supreme Court upholds the federal law in a ruling anticipated in June. [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1/22/12]
February 2012: McDonnell says a special session can be called if necessary to address the insurance exchange issue if necessary. McDonnell and Howell have said the state can take up the issue in a special session this year if necessary, or even wait until next year, but even opponents of the federal health-care law say Virginia cannot risk missing looming deadlines that require certification of a state exchange in less than 11 months. [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/8/12]
November 2012: McDonnell now says that “the only logical option for us is to use the federal option,” the findings of his Advisory Council notwithstanding. Faced with a Nov. 16 deadline to decide what kind of exchange to establish in Virginia, McDonnell said he would default to a federal exchange with the understanding that the state could change course later. “I don’t want to buy a pig in a poke for the taxpayers of Virginia,” he said at a post-election press briefing today. “At this point, the only logical option for us is to use the federal option.” Defaulting to a federal exchange would reverse the position that McDonnell and the General Assembly took last year, when he signed a law giving him the authority to plan for implementing a state-based health benefits exchange under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But the governor has yet to respond to recommendations made by his own advisory council a year ago on where and how to create an exchange. He and House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, blocked legislative attempts this year to create a state-based exchange. [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 11/7/12]
Here’s the response from Tucker Martin from Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office:
“There is absolutely no need for a special session. We are just weeks away from the start of the regular General Assembly session, during which the issue of health care exchanges will be addressed. More importantly, the states are still awaiting critical additional guidance and regulations from the federal government about the financing and implementation of health exchanges, and we are hopeful that we will have that in the next month.
“The Secretary of Health and Human Services has delayed an exchange decision date, at the request of many governors, to allow time for additional answers to be provided to the states. Making a costly and important decision without all the substantive information is irresponsible. As everyone knows, Virginia will comply with federal law, and a choice by Virginia of either a state, federal, or partnership exchange is in full compliance with the law.
“Special sessions cost significant taxpayer dollars, and there are no decisions to be made between now and January that would require the members of the General Assembly to come back early.
“Today’s press release is unfortunate theatrics. A special session would amount to nothing more than a very expensive public relations exercise.”