The U.S. Supreme Court’s historic, 5-4 decision last week upholding the national health care reform law will bolster reform efforts already under way in the state, according to Rhode Island officials.
“I have fully committed to ensuring Rhode Island is a national leader in implementing health reform … and this [ruling] just reinforces that commitment,” said Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, in a statement released shortly after the June 28 decision. “This ruling,” he continued, “also will help to bend the health coverage cost curve for Rhode Island small businesses and their employees. It will ensure the continuation of provisions already in effect – including the small-business tax credit on employee premiums paid that can save small businesses up to 35 percent per year. We are energized by this decision and will work with Rhode Island’s business community to continue to implement health reform in our state.”
In Rhode Island, the creation of the R.I. Health Benefits Exchange, one of the signature efforts undertaken as part of health care reform, remains on track to begin operation in late 2013 as an online marketplace for health insurance for individuals and small businesses, as well as a clearinghouse of information on health-insurance products, according to R.I. Health Insurance Commissioner Christopher F. Koller.
The exchange was created by executive order by Chafee in September 2011. Its new director, Christine C. Ferguson, who was appointed by Chafee on June 21, hailed the court’s ruling: “This decision reaffirms our efforts in moving forward with a health-benefits exchange,” she said in a statement. “We will continue our work, with already-approved federal funding, to create a place where Rhode Islanders not only can compare and buy health insurance, but also check to see if they qualify for Medicaid – and eventually, food stamps and other government programs. Rhode Island families and small businesses soon will have a place where they can easily buy and compare health insurance options. Some residents will even qualify for free or low-cost insurance depending on their income,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson, who helped to write the health care bill introduced by then-Sen. John Chafee in 1993, said that one of the key provisions was “to create an environment for small businesses and individuals who didn’t have power in the marketplace [offering] more of an ability to influence the price and quality and value of health insurance. That’s where we all want to be able to be,” she said. “It will be a challenging road.”