Time for Illinois to create health insurance exchange, advocates say
CHAMPAIGN — Patient advocates are celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold the basic provisions of the Affordable Care Act, but a local insurance executive warns higher premium costs are likely ahead for those under 45.
Jim Duffett, executive director of Illinois-based Campaign for Better Healthcare, said when he heard the ruling, he heard a "collective sigh of relief" among Illinoisans that means they'll have some peace of mind about their health care.
"We are definitely elated that the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare," Duffett said. "Their decision today helps to strengthen our nation's social fabric and does provide hope that constitutional law and democracy do matter."
But now it's time for Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois Legislature to get to work moving ahead on the state's insurance exchange, Duffett said.
The state exchanges being established under the health care reform law are intended to create an affordable insurance market for one person or family and small employers to purchase insurance.
Urbana-based Health Alliance Medical Plans CEO Jeff Ingrum said Health Alliance has been working with a consultant and is ready to implement the new law.
Part of the preparation has been getting ready to respond to a new marketplace selling to individuals instead of groups, he said.
Health Alliance currently has about 20,000 individual members, and projections call for the individual coverage market to triple after the exchanges are up and running Jan. 1, 2014, Ingrum said.
Ingrum also said he and his company will continue to seek changes to fix problems in the Affordable Care Act.
"We do think this ruling today does not solve the problems for people who want to buy affordable insurance, because the act still has problems related to the cost of insurance," Ingrum said.
For example, he said, health insurers will be prohibited from denying anyone coverage based on pre-existing conditions starting Jan. 1, 2014, and for healthy people, it will be much cheaper to pay the tax to opt out of mandated coverage and buy insurance when they need it.
The tax is $95 for the first year, he said.
The law also narrows the gap between what younger and older people are charged for insurance coverage, Ingrum said, and younger people ages 18-44 are going to pay a lot more for their insurance to subsidize older people.
Champaign County Health Care Consumers Executive Director Claudia Lennhoff said people have already benefited from such reforms under the law as young adults being able to remain covered under their parents' insurance until age 26, the lifting of lifetime caps on coverage, and Medicare recipients receiving preventive health services without copayments.
"There are some very basic protections like that got implemented, and it would be terrible to go back to those days without protections," she said.
Now there's work to be done in Illinois at the technical level, she said, and "there's no excuse for no moving forward."
"But this is a very happy and hopeful day," Lennhoff said.