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Limbo on Illinois health marketplace disappoints consumer and business advocates

Legislators have little time left to decide if Illinois will establish its own marketplace, or leave it to the feds for the foreseeable future.

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Limbo on Illinois health marketplace disappoints consumer and business advocates

File: A doctor examines a patient.

Chicago Family Health Center/Daisy Ramirez

Illinois’ new health insurance marketplace will be run jointly with the federal government for the foreseeable future, which has disappointed consumer advocates.

The marketplace, also known as the insurance exchange, is where people without health insurance will go to shop under the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. States had the option to pass legislation establishing state-run marketplaces, or leave it to the feds.

Several such bills made their way through the Illinois General Assembly without passing by the end of the legislative session in May. As it stands, Illinois’ marketplace will be jointly run with the federal government for the foreseeable future.

“We’re not gonna have the ability to really have any oversight of the federal exchange,” said Jim Duffett, Executive Director of the Illinois Campaign for Better Healthcare. He says the bill would have established a regulatory board representing a broad swath of consumer interests including small businesses, communities of color and people with disabilities, calling the proposed body “a very broad-based independent pro-consumer board.” It would also have given the state the ability to regulate rates.

The bill, HB 3227, was passed in the Illinois state senate, but never came to a vote in the house. While it could still progress in the fall legislative veto session, the current limbo means the exchange will be run jointly with the federal government in 2014 based on previous legislation. The future of the exchange in 2015 remains unclear.

Healthcare and small business advocates had also hoped for a bill to pass this year.

Danny Chun, spokesperson for the Illinois Hospital Association (IHA), says hospitals supported HB 3227 because they, too, would have had representation on the regulatory board. And IHA supports requiring the insurance industry to cover the costs of managing the marketplace, another provision of the stymied bill. But he said he was not too worried.

“The marketplace is happening,” Chun said. “Just because they didn’t pass it in the spring session doesn’t mean the issue isn’t going to be called again.”

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce supported a different version of the bill, but had hoped another version would pass this session -- one without the same requirements for insurance companies to fund the exchange.

“Ultimately what ended up passing the Senate we were neutral on,” said Laura Minzer, head of the healthcare council for the ICC. “But it reflected a lot of the provisions and the principles we wanted to see captured.”

Other key legislation did pass the Illinois General Assembly, including a bill to expand Medicaid in Illinois to low-income adults and a bill to establish licensed Illinois Insurance Navigators. Navigators will help consumers make their way in the new marketplace.

Beginning January 1, 2014, all Americans will be required to get health insurance or pay a fine. At least 17 states have already opted to create their own insurance exchanges, while 26 states will likely leave it to the federal government. Illinois is among the seven that are currently planning a jointly-run exchange. The federal marketplace, including the one in Illinois, is set to open October 1.

Lewis Wallace is a WBEZ Pritzker Journalism Fellow. Follow him @lewispants.

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