Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

DC Council Approves Health Care Reform Bill Establishing Unified Exchange

Stephanie Akpa

Stephanie Akpa, Equal Justice Works Fellow

Two of the better known parts of the Affordable Care Act are (1) the requirement for the creation of a health care marketplace (operated by the federal or state government, or a partnership between the federal and state government) through which individuals and small businesses can evaluate their health insurance options and sign up for plans, and (2) the accompanying requirement that individuals have public or private health insurance.  The District government is well on the way to having an operational marketplace by the October 1, 2013 deadline set out in the ACA, and Legal Aid attorneys have been actively participating in (and supporting) this effort.

Yesterday, the DC Council voted unanimously to approve the “Better Prices, Better Quality, Better Choices for Health Care Amendment Act of 2013.”   The bill creates a “unified” exchange, in which all health insurers in the District would be required to sell their plans through a virtual marketplace called the DC Exchange.  (The legislation contains a transition period for small group health insurance plans that is up to two years, during which those plans may be sold both inside and outside of the Exchange.)  Individuals and small businesses can begin enrolling in plans offered in the Exchange on October 1, 2013 with coverage under those plans becoming effective on January 1, 2014.

The legislation contains a number of consumer protections.  One is the requirement that insurance carriers offer one plan in each benefit level that has a standard set of benefits and cost-sharing (such as co-pays and deductibles).  This will assist consumers in comparing the prices and benefits of different plans.  Another is the requirement that insurance carriers offer insurance plans in least three of the four different benefit levels (gold, silver, bronze and platinum, representing different cost sharing and premium requirements), which will guarantee that consumers have a wider range of health plan options.  Additionally, the creation of a unified market will increase the purchasing power of individuals and small businesses, thus helping to contain premiums.

As a small business and an organization that advances the interests of low income District residents, Legal Aid advocated for passage of the Better Prices, Better Quality, Better Choices Amendment Act of 2013.  On May 13, 2013, I testified on behalf of Legal Aid before the DC Council’s Committee on Health.  My testimony, as well as the testimony of many other consumer advocate groups, emphasized the bill’s many benefits to District residents and small businesses, including affordability, expanded choices for health insurance, and increased transparency, oversight, and regulation.  In addition to this testimony, Legal Aid and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute co-authored a letter of support, which was signed by more than 30 non-profit and for-profit small employers in the District and sent to the Council.

Legal Aid commends the Council for passing this legislation and for supporting the implementation of health care reform in the District.  Passage of this bill brings the District one big step closer to providing access to quality, affordable health care for all District residents while promoting consumer choice and transparency.

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