CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — The federal government Thursday gave Nevada initial approval to run its own health insurance exchange program as called for under the federal health care reform law.
The announcement by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius means the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange is on track to begin taking enrollments in October.
"I applaud Nevada's work to build a new health insurance marketplace," Sebelius said in a statement, adding the state has made "significant progress" in its efforts.
Under the federal health care law, states were required to set up insurance exchange programs to help people find coverage or the federal government would do it for them. The goal is to make it easier for individuals and small businesses to navigate the often confusing maze of health care and insurance coverage to help them find affordable plans.
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed and state lawmakers approved setting up the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange during the 2011 legislative session.
Sandoval opposed the health care law and Nevada was one of more than two dozen states that challenged it in court.
But even while the law's fate was uncertain, Sandoval pressed ahead with preparing to set up the exchange, saying it was better to have the state in charge rather than cede control to the federal government.
On Thursday he commended state exchange officials "for their hard work in receiving his proposal."
Nevada was one of four states with Republican governors to receive approval Thursday. The others were Idaho, New Mexico and Utah. To date, 17 states plus Washington, D.C. have been cleared to run their own insurance exchanges. Two other states formed partnerships.
In August, a state panel chaired by Sandoval approved a $72 million contract to set up the computer system, website and operations needed to begin enrolling people this fall. The website will include tools for people to calculate costs and compare various plans offered through the exchange. A customer call center to be located in Las Vegas will employ about 50 people to assist consumers with questions and enrollment.
But Sandoval has also said he would oppose long-term funding for the exchange if it takes away money from other state programs or requires a tax increase.
"I'm not going to be supportive of taking general fund dollars," he said earlier, adding the exchange would have to become self-sufficient if it is to continue long term.
Next week, a board overseeing the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange will hold a hearing to adopt regulations imposing a monthly fee on insurers who offer coverage through the exchange.
Under the proposed rates, insurers in 2014 would pay $4.95 for each health care policy issued that doesn't include dental coverage; $5.31 for plans that include dental; and 36-cents for dental plans alone.
The fees, designed to help cover costs of running the program, would increase in each of the following three years to $8.62 for a combined health/dental plan in 2017 under the proposal.
Health insurance policies purchased before Dec. 15 will start coverage on Jan. 1 of next year.