N.C. to build state-federal online insurance market

The Associated PressNovember 15, 2012 

— North Carolina and the federal government will jointly run a new one-stop shop to help people buy affordable health insurance, Gov. Beverly Perdue said Thursday.

Perdue, a Democrat, said she consulted with Gov.-elect Pat McCrory, a Republican, and chose a state-federal partnership to operate the health insurance exchange required by the Affordable Care Act. North Carolina lawmakers failed to establish the framework for a state-run insurance exchange in time for the initial launching late next year, Perdue said, and the only other option was for the federal government to fully run it.

After President Barack Obama was re-elected last week, North Carolina was among dozens of states scrambling to produce a blueprint for a statewide marketplace of private health plans for individuals and small businesses having difficulty finding affordable coverage.

“Finally we’ve realized it is the law of the land given the federal election results,” Perdue said. “There now will be concentrated energy on implementing sections of the act. We’ll continue to have questions and concerns I’m sure.”

Republican governors in Virginia and Alabama have indicated they’ll allow the federal government to set up the market in their states rather than take a role in the next phase of the federal health care overhaul known as Obamacare. Other states, such as Mississippi, have moved forward with plans to establish their own exchanges.

North Carolina lawmakers started work in 2011 on creating an exchange, but progress stalled as Republican leaders waited to see if the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the heath care overhaul. The high court cleared the law in June, days before lawmakers wrapped up their two-year session. Legislators did, however, express their intent to establish an exchange.

State Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, criticized Perdue’s decision, saying it should have been left for the incoming Republican legislature and governor.

However, McCrory said in a statement that Perdue’s decision leaves flexibility for the future.

The hybrid system can be changed later to all-state or all-federal management.

“This decision allows him (McCrory) the opportunity to then, in his own good time, make a decision that will be permanent for the state,” Perdue said.

One goal of the Obama administration’s health care overhaul is reducing the number of state residents under age 65 who were without health insurance in 2010. That number stood at 1.6 million, according to the latest estimate by the North Carolina Institute of Medicine. About 700,000 North Carolinians with limited or no insurance would buy coverage through the exchange in 2014, a consultant reported last year.

The law also provides federal funds to cover most of the early costs of expanding Medicaid to cover these uninsured families. McCrory and the GOP-controlled Legislature will have to decide whether to proceed and whether the state can afford its future share of the costs, state Health and Human Services Secretary Al Delia said.

North Carolina also is asking the federal government for $73.5 million to help defray the cost of establishing an online exchange, Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin said. State officials on Thursday were finalizing a grant application seeking money to help the state insurance agency with management and consumer assistance costs, and the Department of Health and Human Services with IT costs, Goodwin said.

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