The debate surrounding the sweeping federal health care reform legislation that passed earlier this year captivated the attention of the nation for the better part of 2010. Now, the daunting task of implementing this far-reaching legislation has begun. Ohio is beginning the process of implementing one of the bill’s major provisions:  creation of the new state “exchanges”.

Generally, an exchange is a tool to help consumers better understand and choose an appropriate health plan. Under the new law, all states are required to either operate their own exchanges or allow the federal government to operate one for them. As always, however, the devil is in the details and the health care reform law gives states very wide latitude in deciding how to set up their exchanges. Practically speaking, this means each state exchange could be very different and Ohio will need to determine the approach that best fits our state.

The new law dictates that the state exchanges carry out a multitude of different functions. They are tasked with everything from providing a toll-free phone number for consumer questions to operating a website that helps consumers compare various insurance plans. Each state, including Ohio, must also decide which health plans will be sold in its exchange. That’s a lot of power in one little exchange.

The Ohio Health Benefits Exchange Task Force that is just beginning its work to examine the critical issues surrounding exchanges and formulating guidance for best addressing Ohio’s needs. We’ll keep you posted as this issues progresses.