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NC lawmakers won't act on part of US health reform

North Carolina lawmakers have no plans to meet a deadline to create a new one-stop shop to help individuals and small businesses find affordable health insurance despite a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina lawmakers said Thursday that they have no plans to meet a deadline to create a new one-stop shop to help individuals and small businesses find affordable health insurance despite a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

State Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said senators do not intend to take up legislation to create a health benefit exchange before they adjourn next week. The 2010 federal health care overhaul requires all states to have an exchange. Legislation passed the state House last year.

State plans for the markets are due to the federal government by this fall. The federal government will create exchanges for states that don't have them by 2014. Only 14 states and Washington, D.C., have adopted a plan for carrying out the law creating exchanges that steer middle-class households to private plans.

North Carolina's high-risk insurance pool, which is designed as a stop-gap until the state's health exchange is in place, is among the fastest-growing in the nation, with 14,500 people signed up, according to Michael Keough, executive director of Inclusive Health, which operates the pool.

"We're happy to continue playing the role for whatever time in necessary as sort of the insurer of last resort in the state," Keough said. "We're hoping, for whatever time we have left, to continue to raise awareness and help people who need coverage."

Business owners balk at mandate

Gregg Thompson, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said he was disappointed by the Supreme Court's ruling upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. NFIB joined 26 states in challenging the law.

"We are concerned about the precedent that this will set in Congress’ ability to mandate other aspects of our lives, but we will move forward from today to continue to fight, harder than ever, for real health-care reform for our membership," Thompson said in a statement.

Small-business owners will now "face an onslaught of taxes and mandates," he said, which will force some to lay off employees and others to close altogether.

Mark Friedman, chief operating officer of UAI Technology Inc., which advises businesses on retirement and health plans, said a health benefit exchange, whether it's run by the state or the federal government, could save some businesses money by giving them an opportunity to drop their own health coverage.

"What really needs to happen now is that companies need to decide if they want to be in the business of providing health insurance to their employees or whether they want to consider letting employees go to exchanges," Friedman said. "So, it's a new option for employers."

The court's ruling also means that more than 1 million uninsured North Carolina residents will have health coverage, said Pam Silberman, president and chief executive of the North Carolina Institute of Medicine.

The organization has been tasked with making recommendations to the state for how best to implement the 450 provisions of the health care law.

Silberman said the law also includes provisions that will improve the quality of care and preventive medicine, but she said meeting the 2014 deadline for establishing a health exchange – and linking an expanded Medicaid program to the exchange – will be a challenge for the state.

State Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin said the Department of Insurance will use its authority to protect North Carolina consumers and maintain a well-regulated insurance market.


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