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Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Feds Take Lead on Health Insurance Exchanges

State marketplaces may offer more refined choices, but either vehicle should work, experts say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Karen Pallarito

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, March 8 (HealthDay News) -- More than half the states in the nation have decided to let the federal government take on the task of creating one of the most complex yet vital parts of the massive 2010 health reform law, which was championed by President Barack Obama.

In 26 states, the federal government will set up so-called health insurance exchanges, where many Americans can shop for coverage beginning with open enrollment this October. Most of the states handing off exchange duties to Washington are led by Republican governors, including heavily populated states like Florida and Texas.

Only 17 states and the District of Columbia plan to create and run their own exchanges, and the remaining seven states will do it in partnership with the federal government, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation's latest count.

Colorado, one of the first states to enact health exchange legislation, expects to cover 300,000 uninsured residents through its state-run exchange, Connect for Health Colorado.

"I think we feel strongly that we have certain opportunities and challenges that we understand best, and so it does make sense for us to create a system that really is going to work for the stakeholders in Colorado," said Dede de Percin, executive director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative in Denver.

Some states had placed exchange-building on the back burner as they awaited last June's U.S. Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the health reform law, as well as the outcome of the November presidential election.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage of Maine was among those who, in the wake of President Obama's reelection, decided not to implement a state exchange.

Maine has an estimated 133,000 uninsured people, a number that may swell by as many as 44,000, according to Joseph Ditre, executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care in Augusta.

"We are hopeful that the [federally facilitated exchange] will enable a vigorous outreach and enrollment campaign," Ditre said. Still, he added that Maine's decision to forgo a state-run exchange means the state won't play an active role in negotiating with health plans to keep rates down and improve quality -- at least not immediately.

White House says exchanges will be ready by Oct. 1

State-based health insurance exchanges are one of the mainstays of the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," for expanding access to health insurance coverage. An estimated 25 million people are expected to gain health coverage through the exchanges by 2022, substantially slashing the ranks of the nation's 48.8 million uninsured.

The exchanges are intended to serve as a virtual "marketplace," where consumers and small businesses can access online health plan descriptions and data on quality and consumer satisfaction. All exchanges must have a toll-free hotline that people can call to get their coverage questions answered, and trained "navigators" to assist with the enrollment process.

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