Mississippi Builds Exchange Despite Objections Of Governor, Tea Party



The Mississippi Insurance Department officially told the federal government that it will run its own health insurance exchange and plans to file the exchange blueprint Friday.

If the state had not set up an insurance exchange, which is an online marketplace for comparison shopping for health insurance called for by the health overhaul law, the federal government would have done it instead.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney says having Mississippi run the exchange gives the state control over what type of health insurance plans will be sold there.

“The history of the federal government has always been if they become the default operator of the program, they will spend massive amounts of money to implement a program. It may be on a different time line from that which is envisioned now, but it will be massive. It will be expensive. And it probably won’t work very well,” Chaney said.

Mississippi is one of the states leading the way toward an exchange, despite the objections of Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and local tea party activists.

Laura VanOverschelde, with the Central Mississippi Tea Party, says she is not convinced that the federal government will take a hands-off approach.

“But they are in direct conflict with the socialistic program put out by the Obama administration. And they can try to push free market principals all they want to, and they are going to keep running into those road blocks. And those roadblocks are going to prove that the Obamacare can’t stand [in] the way it is written right now.  It eventually will just collapse,” VanOverschelde said.

Members of the exchange board insist that state-level exchange operation is critical to making the market work.

Board member and insurance salesman Joel Jasper says it is important for the rules of the exchange to be set by Mississippians who have a clear understanding of the state’s market.

“Is the exchange free market? Absolutely, that is what we are talking about right here is how do you keep it free market. If you are not careful and you regulate it too much then who wants to participate?” Jasper said. “If it cost too much for a company to get involved in it, why get involved?”

The exchange website, onemississippi.com, is already functioning and one company is currently selling very limited health insurance there.

When it is fully functional, insurance commissioner Chaney estimates that 10 or more companies could sell health coverage there.

Chaney is using authority he has through the state’s high-risk pool to establish the exchange. Byrant has said he will not expand Medicaid in the state.

This story is part of a collaboration that includes Mississippi Public RadioNPR and Kaiser Health News.