Local Commentary

Senator Saslaw’s Richmond Report

On October 1, another phase of the Affordable Care Act (often referred to as Obama Care) will be implemented. Virginians, along with citizens across the nation, will be able to shop the Marketplace for health insurance. The Commonwealth is renowned for its fiscal responsibility while at the same time is often towards the bottom of national rankings in many areas. It appears that once again we are in a race for the bottom when it comes to implementing the Affordable Care Act.

It is significant to note some of the positive outcomes of the measure and what it means to hard working families. To begin with the law prohibits insurance companies from dropping your coverage if you get sick. They can no longer force you into bankruptcy due to an annual or lifetime cap. Since December 2011, some 66,000 working young adults without job coverage have been included in their family insurance.

Another benefit of the ACA should be realized in the wallets of most insured individuals. Going forward, insurance companies must dedicate 80% of premium revenue toward health care and not overhead. If that ratio is not met, the carrier will be required to give rebates and/or reduce the annual premium. Additionally, insurance companies must publicly justify increases greater than 10% annually. When was the last time your premium increase fell below 10%?

So where does the Commonwealth stand on insurance reform? Lacking the political will to see that all Virginians have access to affordable health care through an insurance exchange, we not only punted but also actually left the field, deferring to the federal government to set up our exchange program. This despite yet another failed attempt by our infamous Attorney General Cuccinelli in filing a lawsuit to halt this long overdue reform of the health care system. The measure stood the constitutional test in a heavily leaning Conservative U.S. Supreme Court. However, with that said, in late 2012, Governor McDonnell informed Federal officials that Virginia would not plan for a state-based health insurance exchange.

During the 2013 General Assembly, we passed legislation authorizing the State Corporation Commission to perform plan management functions. That included collecting and analyzing information of plan rates, benefits and cost sharing as well as ensuring continued plan compliance. The SCC will also be responsible for managing consumer complaints, providing technical assistance and decertifying plans issuers. The VA Dept. of Health was also tasked with assisting in plan management functions.

Just like most insurance premiums, the rates will vary based on age, family composition, tobacco use and geographic area. Virginia will be assigned 12 geographic areas. In the absence of pro-active legislation to get the exchanges up and running, most of the bills signed into law have been restrictive and intended to further stall and/or legislatively derail the national law. Why is this significant?

I do not believe this obstructive approach to governing is in the best interests of the people we are elected to serve. It is lacks positive outcomes. For example, if you look at the cost of emergency room care (sometimes the only option available to the non-insured) you cannot help but see a correlation with the cost of premiums for the insured. Mandatory preventative care, along with public health centers are steps in the right direction toward cost containment.

As a small businessman, a parent and a legislator, I find this kind of “north of the Potomac” mentality to be shortsighted and unproductive. I also believe it demonstrates the lack of business acumen that some of the state’s top office holders seem to reflect. On November 5 we have the opportunity to elect individuals that have the education, experience and business understanding to move the Commonwealth forward in a fiscally smart manner. I hope in the coming months you will be able to sift through the facts as well as the fiction before you vote.

Enjoy the rest of the summer. I look forward to seeing you in the community.


Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at district35@senate.virginia.gov.