In recent years, many Oregonians and small business owners have told me about their challenges finding and keeping health insurance that they can trust and afford. At a recent small business roundtable I hosted in Gresham, the spiraling costs of health care were cited repeatedly as a major cost driver and burden on business. The health care crisis affects all of us, but I am pleased to report that the Legislature has made significant progress on health care this session. Just last week, we approved a bill creating a health insurance exchange that will give small businesses and individuals better health care options.

The Oregon Health Insurance Exchange will work like a central marketplace for health insurance. Currently, it is difficult for consumers and small businesses to get clear information about health insurance plans. Under Oregon's exchange, set to be operational in 2014, consumers and businesses can make 'apples-to-apples' comparisons of health plans for the first time.

The exchange will give consumers and small businesses better health care choices by creating standards for customer service, value and transparency that all participating health plans must meet. Standards for cost and quality can also be established to ensure consumers have acceptable choices. Oregon's exchange will help improve affordability and quality of health care insurance by creating a level playing field where insurers compete for customers and consumers are well informed. Businesses will be able to plan for health care costs by providing a fixed payment for employees to buy insurance through the exchange, and employees will be able to more easily keep their health insurance as they change jobs.

Oregon's Health Care Exchange is designed for local control and accountability. The exchange will be run by a board of directors that includes at least one consumer advocate and one small business advocate, and no more than two members may work for health care companies. Additionally, the Legislature will regularly review the exchange's performance. This design is responsive to the challenges of Oregon's health care system, and keeps Oregon in control instead of the federal government.

I helped lead months of work with stakeholders in the Health Reform Subcommittee, and after hard work and compromise, the bill passed the House and Senate with clear bipartisan support. Establishing a Health Insurance Exchange moves Oregon forward by empowering Oregonians and businesses to find and keep the health care that best meets their needs.

Laurie Monnes Anderson is the Oregon state senator for District 25.

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