Lindeen: Montana Can’t Create Insurance Exchange

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Montana will have to let the federal government design its required health-insurance exchange because legislators refused to give the state the authority to do it itself, the insurance commissioner said.

The 2010 federal health care reform law requires state-based exchanges to be running by January 2014, when all Americans will be required to obtain health coverage if they don’t have it. People who want to get federal subsidies for private health insurance must use the new Internet clearinghouses to shop for health insurance.

But the Republican-controlled Legislature killed efforts by Lindeen, a Democrat, to create the legal authority for Montana to begin designing its own exchange.

“I’ve always thought that the best option was to have a made-in-Montana exchange,” she said. “In order for us to say we have a plan, you’d have to have legislative approval and authority. We don’t have it.”

U.S. Health and Human Services officials said the new rules give states more flexibility on deadlines for creating exchanges, and allow states to take over a federally designed exchange in the future.

But if a state isn’t prepared to design its own exchange, the federal government will have one up and running by January 2014. The state wouldn’t be able to take it over for at least a year after it starts, Lindeen said.

She has asked HHS officials for a meeting on how the federal government may work with Montana to set up its exchange and how it will operate, but she hasn’t heard back, she said.

Republican lawmakers opposed the health-reform law and killed all proposals that gave the state authority to implement portions of the law in the 2011 legislative session.

Sen. Jason Priest, R-Red Lodge, one of the most vocal critics of the federal law, said Thursday the law will lead to higher costs and less choice for people.

“It should be very clear to the voters who broke health care, and it’s not Montana Republicans,” he said.

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