Building a Competitive Insurance Marketplace in PA

A blog post from Christopher Lilienthal, originally published on Third and State.

So have you ever used Travelocity to book a flight? Or the Consumer Reports web site to research a new car?

Then you probably know the value of comparative shopping. I, for one, never book a flight before comparing just about every option and airline. What is the cheapest day of the week to fly, which airline offers nonstop flights, how long will I be in the air?

As Antoinette Kraus of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN) wrote in an op-ed last week:

Sites like Travelocity have made air travel, car rentals and hotel bookings more convenient, competitive and affordable.

The same can't be said for health insurance, but that's about to change. The federal Affordable Care Act calls for the creation of competitive health-insurance marketplaces by 2014 to provide individuals and small businesses with a place to buy high-quality, affordable health coverage.

Pennsylvania's Insurance Commissioner is holding hearings this month to gather public input on what the state's new health insurance marketplace should look like. Hearings were held outside Pittsburgh and Philadelphia earlier this month, with the third and final hearing happening today near Harrisburg. Sharon Ward of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center will be one of the testifiers at that hearing.

This is a fairly new debate at the state level. The Insurance Department hearings are intended as a first step on insurance marketplaces, or exchanges.

A lot of work lies ahead, but it is important that state policymakers incorporate some of the insurance marketplace principles outlined by PHAN, such as ensuring that an insurance marketplace is competitive and transparent, that it connects consumers with high quality health coverage that meets their needs and budgets, and that it protects consumers and serves as an industry watchdog.

At the end of the day, a competitive insurance marketplace will be good news for Pennsylvania consumers and small businesses who will be able to leverage their collective buying power and drive down costs.

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