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March 07. 2013 12:51PM

Feds approve governor's request to form health insurance exchange

CONCORD - The federal government has conditionally approved the state's request to partner with the federal Department of Health and Human Services to run a health insurance exchange in the state.

Required under the Affordable Care Act, the exchanges will function as an electronic marketplace for individuals and small businesses to review 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 state Department of Health and Human Services to set eligibility requirements for the Medicaid program, which would expand under the Affordable Care Act.

Last 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.

Thursday, the federal agency conditionally approved the request.

"New Hampshire's health insurance marketplace will help more Granite Staters access quality, affordable health coverage, and moving forward with a partnership marketplace is critical for preserving oversight at the state level in order to ensure that the health insurance offered to our citizens and businesses meets their needs," Hassan said. "I look forward to working with the federal government and in collaboration with the state legislature to ensure that New Hampshire maintains flexibility and is protected financially as we work to maximize the resources available to improve the health of our people."

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

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

Democrats argue the partnership at least allows 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.

Federal officials said a state partnership marketplace will be ready for open enrollment in October.

Consumers using the marketplace will be eligible for premium tax credits and cost sharing assistance to help lower their costs.



grayno@unionleader.com

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