SB 99-A is on its way to the floor of the Oregon House of Representatives. SB 99-A would authorize the development of an Oregon Health Insurance Exchange, pending approval of a business plan in February when the legislature reconvenes.

The Oregon Business Plan has long advocated for a health insurance exchange. The January 2007 Oregon Business Plan Policy Playbook called for the development of an insurance exchange to make it easier for individuals and employees of small businesses to purchase insurance.

Under the exchange model included in SB-99, small employers would be able to offer a defined contribution to their employees to purchase healthcare, and employees could aggregate contributions from multiple employers. This empowers consumers to choose the plan that best meets their needs, and simplifies the process dramatically for employers. With a transparent and easy to use exchange, employees of small businesses and those purchasing healthcare on their own would be able to navigate an easy to use, online marketplace to compare plans based on price and quality, selecting the best value for them and their families.  We believe that empowering consumers to choose healthcare plans based on their value will help slow the growth of healthcare premiums.

While the Oregon Business Plan has long advocated for an exchange, the federal Affordable Care Act (2010) requires states to have one, or to adopt the federal exchange (which has not been created yet) by 2014. Under the new federal law all individuals will be required to purchase insurance, with those who cannot afford it getting subsidies from the federal Government. The exchange is the marketplace where those individuals-and others—will be able to purchase healthcare with easy online tools and transparent information about price, quality and benefits. By developing its own exchange, Oregon is more likely to have something that works well for Oregon small businesses and individual purchasers.

Business groups worked in collaboration with key policymakers and other stakeholders to get SB 99-A out of the Senate last month. Senator Frank Morse (R-Albany) was a key leader in the effort to pass the bill.

In the House, the bill was held up as parties disagreed over one sentence that would preclude the Exchange Board from engaging in selective contracting. Ultimately, the language was left in the bill but an opinion from legislative council called into question whether or not the language actually prevented selective contracting.

The bill passed the House Health Care Committee 4-3. Co-Chairs Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) and Jim Thompson (R-Dallas) were instrumental in getting the bill through committee.

The bill now heads to the House floor. It is unclear how many votes the bill will receive. We strongly urge legislators of both parties to support the bill. We believe it is critical to the health of business in Oregon.