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November 10, 2012

Chaney: State is preparing for health care changes

MERIDIAN —     With the national elections behind, leaders are looking to move forward with implementing President Barack Obama's health care plan.

    The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, is being phased in over a period of years — many facets by 2014 and the remainder by 2020.

    Mike Chaney, Mississippi Insurance Commissioner, said the state has already been preparing to comply with the federal law. At a Meridian event Thursday evening sponsored by the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation, Chaney said from his point of view, the most important thing is to make certain all Mississippians have access to health care.

    The state has three options, he said — to establish an insurance exchange, to let the federal government come in and establish an exchange or to enter into a partnership with the federal government.

    "If you defer to the federal government, under the program that exists under the Affordable Care Act, you forever give your keys to health insurance and health-related issues to the federal government and the state has no say-so on future actions," Chaney said. "That could mean limited access to providers."

    "We've decided that we think it's best for the state to operate the exchanges, not the federal government," he said.

    It is especially troubling to senior citizens who are concerned about cuts to Medicare, Chaney said, adding that Medicaid is something the governor and Legislature will have to address. It is not under his authority.

    "If I were 80 or 85 years old and I saw money being withdrawn from the Medicare fund that protects us, that you and I have paid for since 1965," Chaney said, "we pay 2.9 percent tax on our payroll, if that money is taken away from the money that we paid into and given to people who have never paid into the system, as a subsidy, it's going to be hard for an older person to get the proper medical care they need."

    It is a problem, he said.

    "The feds would probably tell you that that's not an issue, but it really is an issue," Chaney said. "It's going to be an issue that we've got to address."

    States are under a Nov. 16 deadline to submit blueprints for how they will comply with the new health insurance rules.

    "You have to show significant progress in the establishment of an exchange," he said. "To be federally compliant, you have to meet certain federal criteria and this blueprint shows how we're going to meet that criteria. It's through community outreach, advertisement, being proactive in knowing what goes on in your communities and making sure you reach all segments of the population within a state."

    Mississippi will likely submit its blueprint on Nov. 12, he said.

    "We can always withdraw the blueprint, but if you don't submit, you'll never have another opportunity to submit that blueprint," Chaney said. "It's important that the state continues down the road to have the opportunity to protect our citizens. What works in California and New York state may not work in Mississippi."

    Mississippi already has an insurance exchange program, Chaney said. It's called OneMississippi.com.

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