Work on Nebraska's own version of health care insurance reform will begin in earnest next month when bills to create the Nebraska Health Benefit Exchange Act come up for debate, two state lawmakers said Tuesday.
Sen. Rich Pahls of Boys Town and Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha each have introduced a bill in hopes of having a state law in place before the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the federal health care reform plan this summer.
"The nuts and bolts of the two bills are not really that different, from what I have read," Nordquist said. "We are not dictating a lot in the bills. We are leaving a lot of it up to others to bring their recommendations to us. We are not overly descriptive at this point."
Both bills would create the benefit exchange act, which is aimed at providing health insurance options for Nebraskans to buy affordable, quality health care coverage.
Among the goal areas in the bills:
— Increasing access to quality, affordable health care coverage.
— Reducing the number of uninsured Nebraskans.
— Providing affordable options for small businesses to purchase private health insurance for their employees.
— Providing consumer choice and portability of health insurance, regardless of employment status.
"My bill would move us forward in the establishment of a health insurance exchange, which is an open, transparent marketplace for consumers, families and small businesses to shop for the plan that best fits them," Nordquist said.
Nebraska is among the many states that are working on their own laws instead of waiting for the Supreme Court.
Oral arguments are set for March on whether the federal plan requiring nearly all Americans to buy health insurance by 2014 or face financial penalties is unconstitutional.
Pahls said it's important for Nebraska to have an insurance plan completed before summer. But it's also important that all interested parties from consumers to health care providers to insurance carriers have input.
"We want to make this public and see where everyone is at, so we can find some commonality," Pahls said. "Because everybody has a stake in it."
"I don't know where this will lead us right now, but it will give us an opportunity to talk about it."
Nordquist said the bills were offered as a starting point and voices from all sides of the issue will be needed as the state moves into new territory.
"This is the first time that the state is setting up a process to sell a private product," he said.
"I'm hopeful that we can move as soon as possible," Nordquist said. "The longer we wait, the less likely we will get it right. The sooner we get to work, the better it will be for Nebraskans."
Legislative Bill 835
Legislative Bill 838