HHS Provides Funding To Help Set Up States’ Health Plan Exchanges
On Thursday, HHS awarded about $1 million each to 48 states and the District of Columbia to begin designing health insurance exchanges under the federal health reform law, the Los Angeles Times reports (Levey, Los Angeles Times, 9/30).
Under the overhaul, states by January 2014 must create insurance exchanges that provide coverage options for individuals and small businesses.
The exchanges are intended to foster a competitive market and hold insurers to strict new standards while attracting consumers. States can choose to administer their own exchanges, for which they must have some infrastructure in place by January 2013, or ask the government to run the exchanges for them (California Healthline, 9/14).
Currently, only Massachusetts and Utah run health insurance exchanges -- most states have only just begun to build or explore building the necessary infrastructure for the exchanges, according to the Times (Los Angeles Times, 9/30).
HHS stipulated that the grants can be used to:
- Assess the state's information technology systems and delineate new requirements;
- Work with community organizations to include the public in the planning process;
- Plan consumer call centers;
- Hire staff and determine staffing needs;
- Plan coordination between the exchange and Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program; and
- Establish performance benchmarks (CQ HealthBeat, 9/30).
According to Joel Ario, director of the HHS Office of Health Insurance Exchanges, the grants do not indicate that all 48 states will set up their own exchanges but rather that they are exploring the feasibility of doing so (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/30).
HHS officials said the grants are only the first round of funding for the state health insurance exchanges, CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 9/30).
Two States Reject Grants
Two states -- Alaska and Minnesota -- declined to receive the exchange grants, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/30).
Alaska turned down the funds because it currently is involved in a 20-state lawsuit over the reform law's individual mandate, according to Politico's "Pulse."
Alaska Insurance Director Linda Hall said, "Alaska is part of the suit against the federal government to stop the [individual] mandate as we think itâs unconstitutional," adding, "And thus, we are not going to take federal money to create a vehicle to implement that exchange." However, Hall said that the state still is considering creating a health insurance exchange (Haberkorn/Kliff, "Pulse," Politico, 10/1).
Minnesota refused the grant after Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) issued an executive order forbidding state officials to apply for federal health grants (Los Angeles Times, 9/30).