The clock is ticking for the state to make some kind of a decision on the question of health care insurance exchanges.
Without some plan in place, the state risks having the federal government mandating a program, warned Michael Morrill, executive director of Keystone Progress, a multi-issue progressive advocacy organization based in Philadelphia.
"Do we really want the federal government to decide how exchanges are set up?" he asked. "I don't think anyone does."
The exchanges are part of the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in 2010.
Creation of the exchanges, which must be in place by 2014, will allow individuals and small businesses to compare the costs of various health plans.
States without their own plans will allow purchase of those from a multi-state or regional exchange run by a government agency or non-profit entity.
Morrill called for state officials to put aside politics and get a plan in place.
He fears, he said, that lawmakers will not prioritize the issue, given the state's present political climate with pressing issues such as the budget and an election year in 2012.
Decisions must be made as to how the exchanges will be regulated and established.
"Let's build the best system for Pennsylvania," he said.
Jamie Mondics, Keystone Progress health care coordinator, said exchanges will result in lower health care costs and increased competition among health insurers.
In the meantime, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider the Affordable Care Act next spring.
Morrill, for one, said he's optimistic that the court will rule favorably on health care reform.
But U.S. Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Howard, said a court decision to overturn the law might be the very reason why the state should think twice before spending money and time on the exchange issue.
"I think it would be prudent for the state to be cautious," he said. "We don't have a lot of resources to waste."
Thompson said he's kind of glad that the Affordable Care Act is going to the Supreme Court, as it has raised Constitutional questions.
The vast majority of people, he claimed, don't want government-run health care.
But Morrill argued that the health care reform not only is needed, but aspects of the bill that have been implemented are proving to be beneficial to individuals and small businesses.
He said businesses are enjoying tax breaks and adults under the age of 26 without health care plans of their own are able to be covered under their parents' plans.