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Oregon Governor Expected to Sign Exchange Bill

By Jane Norman, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

Health insurance exchanges aren't stalled everywhere. Oregon's legislature this week passed bipartisan exchange legislation and the governor is expected to sign it.

"I look forward to signing this key piece of our health care improvement agenda," Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, said in a statement.

The Oregonian newspaper reported that the bill gained a large majority in the state's House despite opposition from the left and the right. Conservatives in the tea party movement viewed any action on the health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) implementation as an endorsement of the overhaul, while unions protested that the setup of the exchange gives too much clout to the insurance industry. The exchange won't have the power to extract lower rates from insurance plans.

The bill establishes the Oregon Health Insurance Corporation as a public entity governed by a nine-member board of directors that will set the standards for participation by insurance companies; seven will be appointed by the governor. At least two must be consumer representatives. Two may be from the insurance industry, which drew the protests of unions.

The exchange board will set minimum standards and decide which insurance companies participate, though two national insurers are allowed. Many more details will be filled in when the board writes a business plan, which the state legislature will have to approve in 2012.

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