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House Republicans Try — Again — to Impede Health Reform

Just ten months before millions of Americans begin enrolling in health coverage through new insurance exchanges, House Republicans are once again trying to undermine this critical element of health reform.

In addition to its “Plan B” tax plan, the House is scheduled to vote today on a package of spending cuts that includes repealing federal grants to help states establish and run the exchanges, which will offer individuals and small businesses the choice of a number of private health insurance plans.  The federal government will help cover the premiums and cost-sharing charges for coverage bought through the exchanges.

By the middle of next year, the exchanges will need to start certifying the health insurance plans that they will offer so that consumers can start looking for coverage during the “open enrollment” period that begins next October, with the coverage starting on January 1, 2014.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicted last year that repealing the exchange grants would delay state efforts to set up the exchanges.  As a result, CBO estimated, 2 million fewer people would participate in the exchanges in 2015.  That means fewer low- and moderate-income people would receive federal help to make coverage more affordable, and fewer people would be insured.

States can receive exchange grants whether they are setting up their own exchanges or working with the federal government on one.  Altogether, 33 states and the District of Columbia have received exchange planning and establishment grants so far, and the Department of Health and Human Services will soon announce another round of grant awards.

Americans need access to more affordable health coverage — that’s the reason Congress passed health reform in the first place — and exchanges will help connect people with that coverage.  The House already voted both last year and this year to kill the exchange grants, but both measures died in the Senate; it should stop trying to impede this element of health reform.