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Three more states get federal nod for health exchanges

11:39 PM, Mar 7, 2013   |    comments
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By Kelly Kennedy, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - Michigan, New Hampshire and West Virginia are the final three states to receive conditional federal approval to run state partnership health insurance exchanges under the 2010 health care law, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday.

A partnership exchange allows the states to take more time before operating the exchanges fully on their own.

As in previous announcements, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius re-emphasized one key message: "We will be ready in seven months when consumers will be able to use the new marketplace to easily purchase quality, affordable health insurance plans."

The announcement means 24 states and the District of Columbia have submitted plans to operate or partially operate health exchanges.

The exchanges will be ready Oct. 1 and neither congressional budgets nor the mandatory spending cuts that went into effect last week will change that, said Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.

"We will be opening all exchanges in all states," Cohen said.

States that have not created their own exchanges will have those created by the federal government for them, Cohen said, adding that officials from those states said they will work with HHS to to ensure that insurers follow state and federal laws. Those states' insurance commissioners will operate as they have in the past.

A health exchange is a website that allows consumers to purchase health insurance by comparing prices and benefits, just as they would through an employer's insurance plan. Both the federal government and the states have come up with benefits the plans must offer, such as pediatric vision care or mental health care.

The government plans to have the exchanges in place by October for enrollment so coverage can begin in January. That's when the law, also known as the Affordable Care Act, requires most Americans to purchase insurance or face a fine.

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