Business-minded health care providers in Danville would like to see Virginia move forward with a health benefits exchange.

Such an exchange would be a marketplace for residents and small businesses to shop for affordable and transparent health insurance.

Lawmakers introduced several bills in the General Assembly to create a state-run exchange, but Gov. Bob McDonnell wants to wait on developing one until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the federal health care reform law’s mandate that individuals buy health insurance.

Health care reform mandates that either states run exchanges, or the federal government would. They need to be set up by 2013 to offer coverage in 2014. Some lawmakers are afraid that waiting to act could mean Virginia would run out of time to create an exchange, if the court upholds the federal mandate.

Eleven health plans have expressed interest in participating in the exchange, but would also need time to plan to be ready to go, said Executive Director Doug Gray of the Virginia Association of Health Plans.

“It never makes sense to wait until the last second,” he said.

CEO Kay Crane of Piedmont Access to Health Services in Danville wrote local lawmakers urging them to support legislation that would help create an exchange. While PATHS helps many in the region who are uninsured or underinsured, it can’t afford to offer health insurance to its own employees, she said.

Every year, when Crane attempts to negotiate for insurance, the premiums are going up and the benefits are going down. She said an exchange would have to be better, as it would enable competition.

“It’s getting to the place, if something’s not done, we’re going to put our employees in the same situation our patients are,” Crane said. “… and I think it’s ridiculous.”

“How much longer do we have to wait?” said the longtime advocate of health reform.

Dr. Briggs Bauman, optometrist at Family Eyecare Center in Danville, would like to offer his 11 employees health insurance because he believes it’s the right thing to do. From a business standpoint, it would make the center more competitive, would help retain employees and would improve productivity because of healthier workers.

But high insurance costs and potential rising premiums keep that out of reach for a small business.

Bauman would like to see the insurance options available through a state-run health benefits exchange. Additionally, such an exchange could benefit patients who put off eye exams because of a lack of insurance or coverage.


(As published in the Danville Register & Bee, January 30, 2012)

“I do think our society should be able to provide some basic health care for everybody,” Bauman said. “That’s a personal opinion.”