By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – In a unanimous voice vote, the executive committee of the R.I. Healthcare Reform Commission recommended on July 18 that Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee use an executive order to create a R.I. Health Insurance Benefits Exchange within the executive branch, according to Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts, the commission’s chair.
Given the composition of the Commission’s executive committee – which includes Roberts, Richard Licht, the director of the R.I. Deparment of Administration, R.I. Health Insurance Commissioner Christopher F. Koller, Steven M. Costantino, the secretary of the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and Brian M. Daniels, the governor’s policy director – Roberts said it was unlikely that the governor was going to say "no" to five top officials in his administration.
“The governor will make the ultimate decision,” Roberts said, about exactly where the new exchange will be located – such as possibly in a newly created division within the Department of Administration. “The most important thing, from my perspective, is that it’s open, it’s transparent, there is public involvement, and that main priorities of the proposed legislation [which did not pass the General Assembly this session] are maintained.
According to Roberts, there was some resistance to creating the exchange either as part of the R.I. Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner or under the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, because it would tend to overwhelm ongoing programs and efforts.
The urgency of establishing the health insurance benefits exchange is related to the need to meet the federal deadline of Sept. 30, so as not to jeopardize millions in potential federal dollars flowing to Rhode Island to support the exchange. Once it is established, Roberts continued, it’s possible that the exchange could be converted into a quasi-public authority, if the R.I. General Assembly passes enabling legislation in a future session.
“We don’t want to miss the funding deadlines,” Roberts said. “One of the issues raised by the Executive Committee is to make sure that whatever we put in place can be shifted to a quasi-public through passage of new legislation.”
Roberts said that representatives of both R.I. Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed and R.I. House Speaker Gordon D. Fox attended the meeting.
Lawyers are now working to review the actual wording of what would be contained in an executive order, Roberts said. She expects that a draft document will be ready in a couple of weeks.