Feds approve Illinois partnership on insurance exchange [Chicago Tribune]

By Peter Frost, Chicago Tribune
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Feb. 14--Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday said her department conditionally approved Illinois' plan to operate a health insurance exchange in a partnership with the federal government, a widely expected move that makes the state the third to receive the official go ahead.

Sebelius plans to make the announcement Wednesday afternoon at a West Side clinic alongside Gov. Pat Quinn, Sebelius said the approval will allow the state and the federal government to continue work on readying the online marketplace for Oct. 1, when uninsured Illinoisans can begin signing up for health insurance offered under the 2010 health care overhaul law.

Under the partnership model, Illinois will maintain its responsibility for regulating the insurance market, a function that will allow the state to tailor the types of private health insurance plans offered through the exchange. Illinois also will be in charge of customer assistance, which will allow it to conduct outreach efforts and aid people in signing up.

The federal government is responsible for building and operating the exchange.

Illinois becomes the third state to have its partnership plan approved, following Delaware and Arkansas. A handful of other states, including Iowa, Michigan, West Virginia and New Hampshire, also are interested in the partnership model. Other states have opted to set up and run their own exchanges, while a majority refused to participate, relying on the federal government to do so.

Sebelius is in town through Thursday to meet with several large stakeholders, including union leaders, clergy and community groups, to raise awareness about the forthcoming exchanges, a spokesman said.

The exchanges are a crucial part of the government's plan to expand the number of Americans who have some form of health insurance.

Eventually, an estimated 20 million people will benefit from federal tax credits starting in 2014 that will help offset the cost of paying for insurance premiums. Even so, the government estimates that about 6 million Americans will not sign up and will start paying tax penalties in 2014.

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In the first year, those penalties are relatively modest, starting at $95 for adults and $47.50 per child. But they're expected to increase in future years, eventually totaling nearly $7 billion in 2016, an average fine of about $1,200 per person.

While states were given the option of setting up and running their own exchanges, only 18 chose to do so, with most of the rest opting to allow the federal government to operate them, at least in the beginning.

Julie Hamos, director of the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services, has said she hopes to get legislation passed this spring to authorize a purely state-run exchange that will be up and ready in time for open enrollment for 2015.

Meanwhile, consumers can expect a marketing blitz during the summer and into the fall touting the exchanges, which will serve individuals who are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid and not offered health insurance through their employers.

[email protected] -- Twitter: @peterfrost


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