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3/22/2011
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Database Tracks State Healthcare Reform Initiatives

The National Conference of State Legislatures Web site is cataloging actions and legislation pertaining to the Affordable Care Act, enabling comparison among states.

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The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has launched a first-of-its-kind online database to track the actions of state legislatures related to some of the major provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The online database includes topics associated with some of the major provisions in the ACA or federal health reform, and will contain information on Medicaid, health insurance exchanges, health insurance reform, health IT, prevention and wellness, and provider and workforce issues. A separate topic, challenges and alternatives, includes bills that oppose, opt out, or differ from elements of federal ACA provisions.

Katie Boyer, policy associate for NCSL's Forum for State Health Policy Leadership, said the database was developed as a tool to help state legislators and their staffs quickly access the federal healthcare reform law as well as other federal policies relating to the implementation of healthcare reform.

"The ACA and the [Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health] HITECH Act both affect state government and private enterprise. As a result, there is considerable interest in both acts," Boyer told InformationWeek. "The premise of the database is to help policymakers stay ahead of the issue, so they can be informed before it comes to their respective chamber floors, understand trends and actions in other states, compare information, and have the research they need to make their policy decision."

NCSL officials note that the ACA's passage one year ago created a lengthy to-do list for states. Many already had a jump on the federal government on healthcare reform, and every state has made some progress in implementing the new law.

Martha Saenz, a health policy analyst at NCSL, said states are at different starting points as they implement health reform, and the roughly 600 bills included in the database vary depending on the state. She said bills introduced in state legislators deal primarily with individual states' flexibility and differences, such as the approach to establishing health insurance exchanges (HIEs).

NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the nation's 50 states, commonwealths, and territories. NCSL provides research, technical assistance, and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues.

"NCSL policy programs often create these types of databases for legislators and staff to use," Saenz said. "One of the most frequently asked questions by legislators is, 'what kind of legislation exists in other states on this issue?' The database is intended to provide research to help answer this question."

Federal health reform was passed by Congress and signed by the president in March 2010. According to NCSL officials, this left little time for state policymakers, especially in part-time legislatures, to take action on bills. Also, 2010 was a short or no-meeting year for several state legislatures.

This session, lawmakers are responding to the numerous requirements and options outlined for states in federal healthcare reform. The database includes 2011 legislation, including pending, failed, and enacted bills and resolutions. Bills can be searched by state, topic, keyword, status, and/or primary sponsor. The 2011 state legislative database is online and free to all Web users, and 2010 state actions to implement healthcare reform, including legislation, can be found separately on NCSL's Web site.

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