Cuomo issues order for health exchanges

Karen DeWitt / NY Public Radio

Governor Cuomo has issued an executive order to create a state health care exchange, required by the federal health care reform law, after the legislature failed to act.

Cuomo had sought to create the exchanges, required under the federal health care law, as part of the budget, but some Senate Republicans refused, saying they did not want to codify what opponents call Obamacare.

In the end the governor agreed to drop the health exchanges from the budget, and issue an executive order  to create the exchanges instead.

Russ Sciandra, with the American Cancer Society, calls the governor’s executive order a good first step.

“We’re very pleased,” Sciandra said. “It’s critical that the state get working on the health exchange.”

Cuomo says the “bottom line” is that the exchanges will help uninsured New Yorkers who would be mandated to purchase health care plans. He says the exchanges will save taxpayers and small business  $600 million dollars a year, because a portion of their taxes already go to subsidize emergency health care for the state’s 1.2 million uninsured.

Cuomo says the exchanges will bring “true competition” and drive down costs for existing health care premium holders.

One of the GOP Senators who strongly objected to the exchanges disagrees.  Senator Greg Ball, of the Hudson Valley, in a statement called the move “political” and predicted that the exchanges will ultimately cost taxpayers “billions of additional dollars”.

Ball says with the Supreme Court currently deciding whether the health policy mandates are constitutional, there is “zero need” to build an initial framework now.

A poll conducted this week by Siena College finds New Yorkers have mixed feelings about the health care act, and even whether the Supreme court should uphold the law.

The survey found that 41% of New Yorkers say parts of the new law should be declared unconstitutional, and one quarter would like to see the Supreme Court throw out the health care act altogether. Only 25% think the health care act should be upheld, says Siena’s Steve Greenberg.

“Voters are confused on this issue,” said Greenberg.

Sciandra, with the Cancer Society, says if the mandates are struck down by the Court, the state could use the health exchanges to create a system just for New York, much like the Massachusetts model begun by former Massachusetts Governor and now GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

“Their insurance rate is 98%, where as in New York it’s about 85%,” said Sciandra.

For now though, the executive order issued by Cuomo would only establish regional advisory committees. They would be made up of insurance and health care stakeholders, as well as consumer representatives, and would recommend a structure for the health exchanges. The governor says there will also be opportunities for public input.  Under the current law, the exchanges don’t have to be up and fully running until January 2014.