HHS delays deadline for health insurance exchanges

The Department of Health and Human Services has extended the deadline for states to declare their plans for a state-based health insurance exchange for one month to accommodate many governors who were waiting until the election outcome to decide whether to move ahead.

Calling the delay “insignificant for states building their own exchanges, but possibly significant for states still considering the best approach,” is Claudia Page, co-director of Social Interest Solutions, a nonprofit technology and policy organization that helps connect low-income families to programs such as Medicaid and is working with states to implement health benefit exchanges.

[See also: California Healthcare Foundation offers states insurance exchange prototype]

“The extra time also gives the federal government a chance to get much needed guidance and clarifications out," Page explained, "which could influence some states' decisions."

The original deadline for states to submit their blueprint and a declaration letter to establish a state-based exchange was Nov. 16. The new deadline is Dec. 14, according to a letter dated Nov. 9 to governors from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and reported by Kaiser Health News.

Originally, if states did not meet the Nov. 16 deadline, the federal government would then set up an exchange for them. HHS wants to be sure the exchanges can be ready to start accepting open enrollment in October 2013 and start operations Jan. 1, 2014.

[See also: Health insurance exchanges mired in political battle]

According to the letter, HHS also will accept blueprints on a rolling basis from states that have decided to establish a state-federal partnership exchange. The final deadline to declare the partnership exchange will be Feb. 15, 2013. States will also be able to apply to run exchanges in subsequent years.

Many of the governors dragging their feet were Republicans, who were hedging their bets that if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the election they would not have to create the online health insurance marketplaces. Romney had pledged to toss out the health reform law.

With President Barack Obama reelected, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), now fully entrenched for implementation, is expected to roll out with deliberate speed.

Sebelius said HHS had heard from many states that additional time was needed to submit their blueprint application for an exchange.

“We are committed to providing you with the flexibility, resources, and technical assistance necessary to help you achieve successful implementation of your state’s exchange and look forward to continuing to work with you as we implement the healthcare law,” she wrote.