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State, federal officials to weigh health exchange at hearing

CONCORD - State and federal health care and insurance officials will hear suggestions next week on what New Hampshire health care providers and users want from a much-discussed health insurance exchange.

Required under the Affordable Care Act, exchanges are to function as an electronic marketplace for individuals and small businesses to review health insurance options from carriers.

Last year, lawmakers passed House Bill 1297, which prohibits the state from establishing its own exchange, but allows the state Insurance Department to continue regulating health insurers and the Health and Human Services Department to set eligibility requirements for the Medicaid program, which would expand under the Affordable Care Act.

Earlier this month, Gov. Maggie Hassan sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asking to form a partnership to run the state's exchange.

Under the arrangement, the state would have oversight of the companies in the exchange and what policies they offer and over the federal "navigators" to help individuals and small businesses wade through the health insurance options to find the best fit.

House and Senate Republican leaders opposed Hassan's request, saying much more information is needed as well as assurances from the federal government that the exchange will not cost state taxpayers money.

Democrats argued the partnership would at least allow the state to retain some control rather than cede all decisions to federal officials.

Under the Affordable Care Act, states can have their own exchange, join with other states to establish regional marketplaces, partner with the federal government or let the federal government run the exchange.

On March 8, state and federal officials who oversee the design and implementation of the exchange for Granite Staters will hold a public hearing to solicit comments. The hearing is set for 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Rooms 206-208 of the Legislative Office Building.

Among those expected to testify at the hearing are health care insurers and providers, consumer advocates, health care producers, the business community and the public.

Among the federal and state officials expected at the hearing are the Insurance Department commissioner, Health and Human Services commissioner, members of the Joint Health Reform Oversight Committee and the Health Exchange Advisory Board and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials.

Earlier this week, House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Butler, D-Harts Location, proposed a bill allowing state officials to discuss the possibility of the state establishing its own exchange tailored to state needs.

Insurance Department attorney Jennifer Patterson told the commerce committee that the earliest the state could establish its own exchange would be 2016 because of the preparation needed before it could be operational.

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