Q: We heard a lot about health care reform a few years back but we haven’t heard anything recently. Are we still going to go a national health care program or is this whole movement been stymied by the recent political events? Is this something we need to be concerned about? –Health Scare Over?

Dear Health Scare: Being as national health care was voted into law a few years back, the march is still on to have a fully functioning national health care system by the year 2015 or 2016.

A lot of this depends on how the coming elections go and which party, if any, will be in the majority. If President Obama gets reelected, then he can veto any legislation to change the national health care program. If he is not reelected, but there is not a majority vote to change this law, there will be a national health care program. If a majority vote of new congressman elected can overturn the health care program, then it we may not have a national health care program.

Currently, there are seven states that have banded together to declare the move to a national health care program is unconstitutional and, therefore, should be struck down. This has been moving through the court systems and will likely end up at the Supreme Court somewhere down the road. North Dakota is one of the states listed in this lawsuit.

In the meantime, by law, all of the states are forced to set up their ‘exchanges’ – the term used for where people can go to sign up for the new health care law. States have three choices – set up their own ‘exchange’ for their own state, use the ‘federal exchange’ or opt for one or the other but then change to the other system down the road.

Recently, all financial advisors and insurance agents attended ND State Insurance Department statewide forums and a huge topic of conversation was this process. During the forum, it was proposed we could always go with the federal program for right now and then switch back to a state program later.

The problem with any federal program is that rural states like North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa, etc. is that we’ll be in a national program, which may not reflect our different standards here in rural areas. Switching back and forth might sound easy – but the reality is once you enter a federal program, it’s likely we won’t be able – once everyone is already enrolled – to go back to a health care program more suited for our rural environment. Once benefits are given – or not given, as the case may be – it’s tough then to not have the federal government not have their say in our own state run ‘exchanges’ would be handled.

A recent memo from North Dakota NAIFA (National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors) stated things quite clearly. I will quote parts of the memo.

‘The Health Care Reform challenge is to bring the estimated 45 million uninsured Americans into the system and to reduce the high costs of health care for everyone. The Affordable Health Care Act directs states to establish ‘Health Care Exchanges’, which are health coverage market places intended to make it easier for individuals and small employers to shop, compare and enroll in mandated health care coverage. If a state does not make sufficient progress by January 2013 in setting up these exchanges, the federal government will take over the implementation in their own program.

In North Dakota, an interim committee has been set up to study this issue and report to a special session of the legislature on November 7th. Many states are having this same special session. The interim committee has proposed a bill that currently requires one ‘navigator’ to do outreach and education for the Exchange, but requires licensed agents/brokers to enroll the individuals.

NAIFA’s Position? We support a state based Health Care Exchange. If the state does not set up an exchange, the federal government will set up it’s own exchange and our state will have to pay for the operational costs of this exchange. Individuals will no longer have the benefit of working with professionally licensed agents and brokers in guiding them through the complexities of health insurance purchasing decisions and enrollment ‘.

If we have a federal exchange, it will likely be run by the same individuals who now work in Social Services, Medicare and Medicaid offices across our states. Great at what they do, but I’d rather have an insurance agent help me with my health care decisions, wouldn’t you?

By the time this article rolls off the press, our special session will be at work deciding to go with the federal program or the state program. Many states are under the same deadline. If you know your local state representative, give them a call and tell them you’d rather have a state-based exchange rather than a federally run program. If you’d rather work with professional insurance agents rather than federal or state employees in deciding your health care coverage in the future, buzz your representatives and let them know how you feel.

Very few issues roll across the country, which will affect every single individual in our country. This is one of them and we’d better be heard now or we’ll deal with the consequences later. Speak up.

Do you have questions about estate planning? Need to know more about how you can  “Keep the Family Farm in the Family”? Contact Michael Baron at 800-373-4078.