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Regulation a necessity for pipeline safety

December 13, 2012
The Inter-Mountain

A massive gas pipeline explosion in Kanawha County on Tuesday destroyed four homes, damaged five others and shut down Interstate 77 for a time. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries.

Flames from the gas that ignited were so intense they melted about 800 feet of highway pavement.The blast reinforced what we have been arguing for years: State oversight of the natural gas drilling industry needs to be matched by more attention to pipeline safety.

Fires and explosions involving gas pipelines are a regular occurrence in West Virginia and Ohio.

The sooner state and federal officials do more to keep the lines safe, the less likelihood of a major blast that could claim dozens of lives.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and other state officials involved in a decision about a federally mandated health insurance exchange in West Virginia appear to be trying to have the best of both worlds. They should not be surprised if they - and Mountain State residents - get the worst.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services want to know by Friday how our state will handle the insurance exchange mandate. It is designed to provide a marketplace where individuals and small businesses can get better terms for health insurance than if they were negotiating separately.

Even the Friday "deadline" is an example of how the DHHS attempts to manipulate states over the new national health care law - "Obamacare." The agency wants a decision on whether West Virginia will run its own insurance exchange or will leave it up to Washington to do so.

But under the law, states can tell the DHHS to go ahead and run their exchanges, then assume state control later. The "deadline," then, is an invention of DHHS officials pressuring states to set up insurance exchanges.

But this week, state legislators were told West Virginia may use a hybrid approach to an exchange. It may seek to operate one jointly with the federal government.

State Insurance Commissioner Michael Riley explained to lawmakers that it is believed an exchange run solely by state government would be too costly. Leaving the operation entirely in DHHS hands would give state officials little say over rules and requirements for insurance companies and policies sold through the exchange, Riley added.

As far as that goes, the exchanges are a federal mandate, so don't look for the DHHS to give states much leeway in setting rules and requirements, regardless of whether the operation is managed in Charleston or Washington, or both. State officials may be given some bureaucratic authority, to make them feel part of the team, but the real decisions will be made at DHHS headquarters.

And if the state accepts partial responsibility for managing the exchange, rest assured Washington will require establishment of a costly new bureaucracy in Charleston.

Tomblin was wise to delay a decision on health insurance exchanges until he could learn more about what the DHHS plans. But he and other state officials may be deluding themselves if they believe they have devised a beneficial compromise. Again, once the program gets under way, look for it to be expensive to manage - and with real control held by the DHHS.

A better strategy for the state may be to continue to delay a decision on what, if any, involvement to have in the exchange.



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