Becky Bowers-Lanier | VHF & HACA Advocacy Consultant
The Virginia General Assembly Special Session 1 adjourned sine die March 1, 2021. This special session built off the regular session which began January 8, 2021 and extended 30 days until February 8th, at which time it adjourned, to be called back for Special Session 1 which began on February 10th. Usually “short” sessions do not work like this, but these are not normal times, as we know. The Senate continued to meet in person at the Science Museum of Virginia, and the House of Delegates met virtually through Zoom throughout the regular and special sessions.
All in all, the inherited bleeding disorders community had a good session, despite the challenges associated with virtual sessions—Zoom meetings, online viewing, delivering comments via Zoom, email, calls, texts—you name it. Everything but in person. Personally, your advocacy consultant is ready to resume face to face encounters except for that pesky virus hanging around. So, I guess we continue to wear masks, wash our hands, and socially distance ourselves. And get vaccinated as soon as we can!
VHF worked through our coalition partners this session to advocate for health insurance that does not negatively impact individuals with pre-existing conditions.
Along with other Healthy Market Virginia members, we continued to oppose association health plans (AHPs) for the third year in a row. In the past two years, these association health plans have been vetoed by the governor. At the beginning of the legislative session, we thought we were in for another year of opposition until two things happened. First, with the election of President Biden, federal support of efforts to chip away at the Affordable Care Act came to a halt, including support for AHPs at the federal level. Second, Governor Northam signaled his willingness to support a reinsurance program (see below). With that, Delegate Chris Hurst struck HB 2033, and Senator George Barker agreed to laying his bill on the table in a House Labor and Commerce subcommittee to be studied by the Joint Commission on Health Care. We are cautiously optimistic that we have seen the end of AHPs!
Virginia can look forward to a reinsurance program, thanks to the sponsorship of HB 2232 by Delegate Mark Sickles. The aim of reinsurance is to decrease the overall cost of health insurance plans sold on the Virginia marketplace, which is set to begin in 2022. The reinsurance program “covers” the cost of high health care costs by insured individuals, not by paying the insured directly but by subsidizing the high cost of treatment to the health insurance plans directly. The reinsurance plan will be paid for by the state (presumably with an assessment on the plans themselves) and by federal subsidies. That will decrease the cost of health insurance for all who purchase health insurance on the Virginia marketplace. It will also mean that individuals who sought association health plan coverage will be able to purchase health plans for lower costs as well. Therefore, reinsurance is a win-win for all on the health insurance marketplace!
Next steps for the General Assembly? There will be yet another special session, most likely deemed Special Session 2, that will convene with passage of the congressional effort on COVID relief. The reason for this is that the General Assembly passed a bill authorizing it to deliberate on the expenditure of federal COVID relief funds (and not solely within the purview of the Governor). This special session could begin as soon as Congress acts. So again, we will stay tuned.