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
Read more »