Ohio Democrats propose state exchange as high court hears arguments on health care law



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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Democratic lawmakers in Ohio want the state to consider creating its own health insurance exchange as the U.S. Supreme Court hears a challenge to President Barack Obama's health care law.

People can find health coverage through the exchanges, or marketplaces, if they don't get insurance through their employers. The federal government, through the HealthCare.gov website, runs the exchanges in 37 states including Ohio.

The nation's high court will hear oral arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit focused on the federal tax subsidies intended to help millions of Americans afford health coverage.

A decision is expected by late June. But Democrats in Ohio want state officials to prepare for an outcome that could invalidate the subsidies.

"If we wait for the Supreme Court's ruling, we're going to find ourselves at a disadvantage," state Rep. Michael Stinziano of Columbus told reporters Monday. He and other Democrats plan to introduce a bill this week to allow Ohio to create an exchange.

The idea got little traction several years ago in the Republican-dominated Legislature and would again face an uphill battle.

Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, opted to let the federal government run the exchange. He said at the time that setting up a state exchange was too costly and Ohio would have little flexibility in operating it.

With the potential for thousands of Ohioans to lose their federal health insurance subsidies, Democrats say a state-run exchange deserves another look.

"We see it as a proactive response," said state Rep. Nickie Antonio of Lakewood.

About 234,500 Ohioans sought marketplace plans for this year, federal officials said last month. And roughly 84 percent qualified for an average tax credit of $247 per month.

Susan Halpern, a 55-year-old freelance contractor and breast cancer survivor, pays $199 a month for her marketplace plan after her subsidy. With an irregular income, she said the subsidy makes a huge difference. Without it, she said, "The only way I could continue to pay the premium is to drain retirement savings."

Halpern discussed her health coverage Tuesday during a news conference held by state backers of the health care law.

Cathy Levine, who leads a consumer group supportive of Obama's law, said there would be no easy fix should residents lose their subsidies. She said it was difficult to imagine the Democrats' proposal passing the Ohio Legislature, which would have to wrestle with a host of questions in setting up an exchange.

"It's really hard to see that being a short process, or even a process that could reach completion in this political environment," said Levine, who co-chairs Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage.

Kasich was asked recently whether he wanted Ohio to create a state exchange should the court strike down the subsidies. He told reporters during a visit last month to South Carolina that he didn't want to get ahead of what the justices might decide.

"I have good people that work on this, we have chatted about this, if the court makes a decision that these exchanges get shut down then we're going to have to figure something out in Ohio," Kasich said. A transcript of the exchange was provided by the governor's office.

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