Deal appoints panel to decide on exchanges

Just before the health reform battleground shifts to Atlanta next week, Gov. Nathan Deal launched a major endeavor related to the much-debated law.

Deal signed an executive order Thursday creating the Georgia Health Insurance Exchange Advisory Committee. The panel will determine if Georgia should establish state-based health care exchanges under federal health care reform. The law was passed in early 2010 but is being implemented gradually and is being challenged in the courts.

The health exchanges, or insurance marketplaces, are required to be running in January 2014, as national health reform — if it’s upheld — is fully implemented.

Under a state’s exchange, individuals and small businesses would be able to shop for more affordable coverage, with increased buying power, by joining a larger pool of purchasers. If Georgia or other states don’t come up with their own exchange blueprints, the federal government will run the operation in those states.

Georgia’s newly appointed exchange committee has many voices from many perspectives in the health system. It has a mix of politicians, government officials, insurance industry figures and business executives. It has a Tea Party representative and the leader of a consumer advocacy group that supports health care reform. (The list of members is at the end of this article.)

What they will end up recommending may be the biggest health care topic in next year’s General Assembly.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta will hear the latest round of arguments in a suit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

The suit was filed by Georgia and 25 other states. In January, federal Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Fla., struck down the entire law, and the government will appeal that decision in the hearing next week.

Deal, in announcing the exchange committee, reiterated his opposition to the health reform law, noting that when he was a congressman, he was the first member of the U.S. House to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. But he also made clear in his statement about the exchange committee that Georgia should study the idea of expanding access to affordable health care.

“I want Georgia to have time to thoroughly study this issue as we wait for the judicial process to play out,” Deal said. “I want to engage Georgians about how we can expand access to health care insurance while lowering the burdensome costs on our state’s families. Georgians don’t want more federal ‘solutions’ and the best way to fight back right now is to manufacture a Georgia solution.

“It is my hope that this committee will construct the appropriate avenues for our state to implement our own exchange, based on delivering free market solutions for increasing the access and affordability of health insurance.’’

During the past General Assembly session, a bill to set up the governance of exchanges in Georgia received backing from the Republican leadership. But ferocious Tea Party opposition over the bill’s connection to health reform led to its demise.

The federal government has said it wants states to show progress toward the exchanges in 2012, or it will begin the process of running those states’ exchanges. So it appears the next legislative session, in early 2012, will be the last one that can approve an exchange bill and forestall a federal takeover of implementation in Georgia.

Here’s the list of the people selected for the committee:

Sen. Greg Goggans (R-Douglas)

Rep. Richard H. Smith (R-Columbus)

Rep. John Meadows (R-Calhoun)

Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta)

Rep. Josh Clark (R-Buford)

Morgan  Kendrick, CEO, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Georgia

Albert C. Ertel, Chief Operating Officer, Alliant Health Plans

Russell B. Childers, Jr., insurance broker, Georgia Association of Health Underwriters

Rick Bailey, insurance broker, Rick Bailey & Company, Inc.

Cindy Zeldin, Executive Director, Georgians for a Healthy Future

Julianne Thompson, TEA Party

Ed Painter, grass-roots representative

Phil Brown, Vice President, Human Resources, Mohawk Industries, Inc.

Jimmy Childre, Georgia Chamber of Commerce

Kyle Jackson, National Federation of Independent Businesses

R. Timothy Stack, President and CEO, Piedmont Healthcare

Alan Levine, HMA Hospital Corporation

Ricardo Azziz, President, Georgia Health Sciences University

Ron Bachman, President and CEO, Healthcare Vision Inc

W.  David Bradford, Ph.D., Busbee Chair in Public Policy at the University of Georgia

Lynn Zonakis, Managing Director for Health Strategy and Resources, Delta Airlines

Gerry Purcell, health insurance consultant

State officials:

Pat Wilson, Chief Operating Officer, Department of Economic Development

Ralph Hudgens, Insurance Commissioner

David Cook, Commissioner, Department of Community Health