April 17, 2014

Branstad accepts $7 million linked to health care reform law

Despite Governor Branstad’s opposition to the new national health care reform law, the State of Iowa is accepting a federal grant to build a new state “insurance exchange” to help individuals and small businesses find health care coverage.

The $7 million grant to the Iowa Department of Public Health will finance “insurance market research” and other work to get the exchange up and running by January, 2014.

Iowa’s governor has joined a lawsuit challenging the national health care reform law, and this grant comes as a result of that law. A spokesman for the governor says the state will accept the grant, even though Branstad believes “the government takeover of health care is unworkable and unaffordable for states.”  The governor’s press secretary says the $7 million in federal funds will off-set state taxes that would have been spent complying with the new health care law.  (Read the full statement below.) 

Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, director of coverage policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says her agency is encouraging states to accept the money, despite objections to other parts of the health care reform legislation.

“It is a bipartisan concept to establish exchanges and there’s support from both sides of the aisle and we continue to encourage states to come in and move forward and not let anything stand in the way,” Brooks-LaSure says, “and we’re confident that the law will be upheld.”

U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius says state-level “insurance exchanges” will help individuals and families who have to buy coverage on their own.

“Shopping for coverage has become a daunting task and too many Americans have been priced-out or locked-out of the system,” Sebelius says. “Families spend valuable hours pouring over fine print to find a plan that will cover their needs and small business owners pay an average of 18 percent more for insurance than the larger chains they’re competing against.” 

State legislators have quarreled over how best to set up the exchange and it’s unclear whether the state will meet the deadline for setting up the system on its own.  Under the health care reform law, the federal government steps in and sets up the exchange in 2014 if a state fails to do so. Sebelius and Brooks-LaSure made their comments late this morning during a telephone conference call with reporters.

Here is the statement from Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht:

The governor continues to believe that the government takeover of health care is unworkable and unaffordable for states, and the governor continues to believe that the lawsuit will be successful.

Should the government takeover of health care move forward, we need to manage and implement specific solutions for Iowa’s extensive needs, rather than a federally mandated, one-size-fits-all exchange.

We will use this grant to help plan for an Iowa-based exchange. The $7 million federal grant means we will not need to use that portion of the state’s general fund to implement the federal government’s takeover of health care.

At this time, our focus should be on lowering health care costs, which the exchange will fail to do. This is why the governor is focused on making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation.

If the federal government forces states to have any exchange, it should be Iowa-built rather than crafted by a bureaucrat in Washington.