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Feds Take Lead on Health Insurance Exchanges
Date:3/9/2013

ealth 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.

About 18 million people with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four) may qualify for premium assistance through the exchanges, according to the Families USA website.

To encourage greater state involvement in the exchanges, the federal government had proposed partnering with states to get the job done, but that option lacked broad appeal. Only four additional states -- Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire and West Virginia -- applied for a partnership by the Feb. 15 deadline.

On March 7, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) conditionally approved those four partnerships. Earlier, HHS had conditionally approved partnerships with three states: Arkansas, Delaware and Illinois.

New Jersey is one state that nixed a state-federal partner
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