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Health Authority Tries To Sort Out The Benefits Of New Healthcare Laws

The Oregon Health Authority is holding a meeting in Portland  Monday  to gather public input on how to put new federal healthcare laws into effect. Kristian Foden-Vencil talked to the people organizing the meeting and files this report.

The Oregon Health Authority was created by the 2009 state legislature — in expectation of new federal health regulations.

The agency was given the task of bringing the state’s various health programs under one umbrella - to maximize purchasing power.

It was also asked to create a central marketplace for health insurance — so you, your employer, or your disabled neighbor would have somewhere to go to compare prices and purchase a policy.

Authority spokesman, Jeremy Vandhey says it would be a little like a shopping mall for health insurance.

Jeremy Vandhey: “You have a standardized way of comparing the premiums; of comparing what you would pay out of pocket at the doctor; of comparing the different services you receive; and comparing the quality between the insurance plans. In fact, they’ll actually be given a grade under federal law, based off their quality and affordability. So you can really compare between different options.”

That way, whether you’re unemployed and think you can’t afford insurance, or if you have a pre-existing health condition, you should be able to find a policy that’s right for you.

Federal law requires states to set up an exchange by 2014, for small companies with less than 50 employees.

If you work for a company with more than 100 employees, you won’t be able to use the shopping mall until about 2017. But the plan is that after that, whether you’re a college student seeking an individual plan, or somebody buying insurance for a large company, you’ll have a one-stop shop to get the best deal.

One of the main questions facing the state is whether to minimize the number of plans in the exchange.

In 2008 for example, there were 57 insurance companies in Oregon — some offering 15 options.  All told there were literally hundreds of plans to choose from, which might prove a little overwhelming for  consumers.

Jeremy Vandhey: “The benefit of streamlining the choices is to make the process simpler, to make it easier to compare between a couple of dozen or fewer choices versus hundreds.”

Vandhey says no decision has been made yet about how to streamline the choices.

In fact, the Oregon Health Authority is holding a meeting in Portland Monday night to gather more information. It’ll be in Medford on Wednesday and in Bend on Thursday.

Spokeswoman Alissa Robins has attended the meetings in Corvallis, Baker City and Florence.

Alissa Robins: “We’ve had great attendance at all three meetings so far. We’ve had a lot of lively and thoughtful discussion.”

The authority will submit a list of recommendations to the next state legislature.

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