States get more time on exchanges

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius extended the deadline for states on their exchanges. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius extended the deadline for states on their exchanges. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The Obama administration is giving states extra time to decide whether they’ll work on implementing a key feature of health reform.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told state governors in a letter Friday that they can have another three months to decide if they will split the task of running an exchange with the HHS or if they want to leave it entirely up to the government.

Sebelius said she still wants states to tell HHS their intentions by the original Nov. 16 deadline, but they now have until Dec. 14 to submit blueprints showing how they would operate the exchanges. Those who want to partner with the federal government have until Feb. 15 to tell the federal government so.

The move may be a concession to the many states who had said they were waiting until after the presidential election to comply with the PPACA mandates. Many Republicans and opponents of reform hoped that Republican Mitt Romney would win and begin work on repealing the law.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, exchanges would operate in every state to allow individuals to buy health insurance. Exchanges can be run by individual states, by the federal government or by a combination of the two under an arrangement known as a “state partnership exchange.” The exchanges are scheduled to begin operating on Jan. 1, 2014.

“This Administration is committed to providing significant flexibility for building a marketplace that best meets your state's needs,” Sebelius wrote in her Nov. 9 letter. “We intend to issue further guidance to assist you in the very near future.”

Though the law intended that each state run its own exchange, many governors have refused to do so. Others have complained there hasn’t been enough guidance from the government on how to do so. For those that don’t intend to set up an exchange, the government will set up one for them.

Despite the looming deadline, most states haven’t told the government what their plans are for their state exchange. About 15 states are working on setting up their own.

Since last week's election, a handful of states, including Texas and Florida, have said they will not pursue a state-based exchange. Some conservative groups have been encouraging states to not take action on exchanges, telling them that resistance shows the government their dissatisfaction with health reform.

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