Guest opinion: Montanans need voice in insurance shoppers exchange

2011-09-08T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Montanans need voice in insurance shoppers exchange

By MONICA LINDEEN

Montana State Auditor

The Billings Gazette
September 08, 2011 12:00 am  • 

As Montana’s commissioner of securities and insurance, I work every day to protect all Montanans from scams, fraud and misinformation about insurance. These days, with all the confusion surrounding health-insurance reform, that’s no small task.

Lately, the health-insurance exchanges have been a particularly sticky point of confusion. Let me take this opportunity to clear the air.

A health-insurance exchange is an online marketplace where individuals and small businesses can compare private health insurance options and purchase the plan that best suits their needs. It’s a lot like buying plane tickets from Priceline or Travelocity. It’s simply another way for Montanans to find health insurance from companies doing business in Montana. No one is required to purchase their insurance through the exchange, and the exchange has nothing to do with insurance mandates or penalties.

To be clear, I am not setting up the federally required online health-insurance marketplace in Montana.

Naturally, I believe we Montanans would be much better suited to determine what is best for our state, and the prospect of a purely federal health-insurance exchange is just as concerning to me as it is to my Republican friends in the Legislature. That is why I am committed to making sure the concerns of Montana families and small businesses are heard as the federal government moves forward.

We started 2011 with a well-planned proposal to give all Montanans a brand new to way to compare and purchase health insurance. With unanimous support from small business associations, medical professionals, patient advocates and health-insurance experts, the plan should have at least gone before the full Legislature for an up or down vote.

Unfortunately, Republican leadership wouldn’t let the plan come to a full vote. So we went back to the drawing board, eventually introducing a new bill with Republican support. Still, Republican leaders refused to give Montanans a voice in our own health-insurance marketplace, handing the reins to the federal government instead.

The end result of the Republican leadership’s inaction is as clear today as it was five months ago: The federal government will build Montana’s health-insurance exchange. The only difference now is that the federal government is asking for Montana’s input.

Given the choice between making Montana’s voice heard loud and clear or turning our backs on Montana’s health insurance market, I’ll choose the option that makes our market look more like Montana than Washington.

Times like these remind me how much I love my job. I love working for the people of Montana, protecting them from scams and fraud, and making sure consumers have a voice to match the money-rich insurance and securities industries. At the end of the day, I’d much rather help every Montanan find affordable health insurance than let big insurance companies, out-of-state interests, or even the federal government call the shots.

Editor’s note: Monica Lindeen is responding to a guest opinion from state Rep. Tom McGillvray, which was printed Tuesday. His opinion can be viewed at a link with this guest opinion at

billingsgazette.com.

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