OR: Ways and Means Committee Approves Cover Oregon Bills
Update (3/4): The House passed House Bill 1582 today on a 56-2 vote, with 2 excused. The Governor’s office issued a statement applauding its passage. The bill was referred to the Senate Ways and Means committee.
Update (3/5): The Senate passed Senate Bill 1582 today on a 24-6 vote. The Governor’s office issued a statement applauding its passage. The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means committee.
Two Cover Oregon-related bills moved out of the Oregon Legislature’s Joint Committee on Ways and Means on Monday, and the House and Senate could vote on both as early as today.
The committee unanimously approved House Bill 4154, sponsored by Rep. Shemia Fagan, D-Clackamas, which requires Cover Oregon to request that the federal government allow people who enrolled in the qualified health plans (QHPs) outside the exchange to receive federal tax credits. The bill would also extend whistleblower protections to Cover Oregon employees and allow the Governor to remove Cover Oregon’s entire board within a year.
An earlier version also included provisions to extend Oregon’s Medical Insurance Pool (OMIP) for three months, but that language was amended out when it became clear that another bill that contains the OMIP provision would also move forward. That bill, Senate Bill 1582, sponsored by Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, also passed out of committee.
Republican lawmakers reiterated calls for accountability and tougher legislation regulating the exchange.
“I’m inclined to support [the legislation] because at least it’s something,” said House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte. “But all this is a cover bill. We need real answers about what happened at Cover Oregon.”
Lawmakers expressed their most serious concerns about Senate Bill 1582.
That bill extends a temporary version of Oregon’s Medical Insurance Pool (OMIP), which covers high-risk individuals with pre-existing conditions, through March 31. The thinking is that the extension will provide enough time for those individuals to enroll in health insurance through Cover Oregon.
The bill was substantially amended last week to include a provision allowing the Department of Consumer and Business Services [DCBS] to extend transitional health plans through December 31, 2015, if the federal government allows such an extension.
“There is a significant change that the federal government will extend the ability for people, if they wish, to continue the private insurance they had in the individual market,” said Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland. He added that the bill meant that “if the feds say yes, we’ll say yes, too.”
The bill nearly failed on party lines because legislators worried that extending non-qualified health plans would adversely affect the insurance market, especially the 2015 rates insurance companies will begin drafting later this month.
“We’re putting an unfair burden on insurers,” said Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles.
“There is a lot uncertainty,” Bates agreed. “There’s different risk for different insurers, depending on how deeply they’ve gotten involved in Cover Oregon. [But] they felt comfortable with this. They want this kind of support.”
Rep. Tim Freeman, R-Roseburg, urged legislators to remain involved. “Somebody from the Legislature should have some sort of oversight with what DCBS could do with the rates,” he said. “It could affect Oregonians in a negative way.”