In a joint press conference today in Chicago, Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced the federal government’s approval of a federal-state partnership ObamaCare insurance exchange in Illinois, in accordance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The partnership exchange, which under the act is the same as a federal exchange, will stay operational unless and until Illinois lawmakers enact legislation that authorizes state funding of the exchange, which the governor has said would like to see happen in 2015. However, if the state does not appropriate funding for a state-funded ObamaCare exchange in Illinois – which the law does not require it to do – the federal government will continue funding it, saving Illinois upward of $100 million annually in exchange costs.
At today’s press conference, Quinn said hundreds of thousands of people in Illinois will gain coverage through the health insurance “marketplace.” But what Quinn didn’t say is that government exchanges restrict the freedom to choose the health insurance that best suits one’s needs. Instead, whether federally run or state-funded, exchanges put the government in control of the health insurance companies that may participate in the exchange, the plans that may be offered and even what doctors and providers can participate in exchange-offered plans.
While the governor calls the exchange a “marketplace for Illinois,” it is not a market. It will in fact be a government-run bureaucracy, wholly regulated by the government, where only government-approved insurance companies can sell government-approved insurance. Therefore, there is no real choice when purchasing insurance on a government exchange. This is true whether the exchange in Illinois remains a federal partnership exchange or the state takes over funding of it in 2015 or thereafter.
Instead of establishing another government bureaucracy, a better option would be to empower individuals, regardless of income level, with the opportunity to purchase the insurance policies that best suit their needs. Real health care reform would have increased, not cut – as ObamaCare does – health savings accounts that empower individuals to shop around and make informed choices on purchasing the health care that best suits their needs. Real reform would be driven by consumers, not the government or insurance companies. Real reform would have empowered low-income individuals with choice, instead of keeping them trapped in a Medicaid system where care and doctors are becoming harder and harder to find.
But at the very least, Illinois is doing the right thing by keeping the exchange’s funding responsibilities with the federal government, a decision that will save state taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year. Because the only difference between a federal and state exchange is who funds it, not who runs it, Illinois should not pick up the tab – now or ever.
Diane Cohen is the general counsel of the Illinois Policy Institute’s Liberty Justice Center.