RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina officials were given extra time Friday ahead of a deadline for a new one-stop shop to help people buy affordable health insurance. The federal government will run the exchanges in states that are not ready or willing.
The Obama administration said governors can have more time to submit an outline for an online health insurance marketplace. North Carolina and other states still on the fence need to declare by next Friday whether it will be setting up new health insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act, with detailed blueprints now due in mid-December.
Gov. Beverly Perdue is consulting with Gov.-elect Pat McCrory and Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin about the state's course, state Health and Human Services Secretary Al Delia said Friday. McCrory, a Republican, takes over for Perdue, a Democrat, in January.
McCrory said he's got to figure how to approach an issue that's been long in the background.
"I'm going to go through that process of education to clearly understand not only the short-term ramifications but the long-term ramifications," he said Thursday.
Staff for the General Assembly's leaders did not provide an official able to discuss options the state is considering.
The scramble is over producing a blueprint for the state's health benefit exchange, a one-stop marketplace of private health plans for those who now have the hardest time finding coverage. The exchange is intended to make it easier to buy the insurance most people will be required to have beginning in 2014 or face paying a penalty under the Obama administration's health reform law.
The law's goal 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.
A recent check by The Associated Press found 16 states and the District of Columbia on track to setting up their own exchanges, while nine have decided they will not. The federal government could end up running the new markets in half or more of the states.
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 Obamacare. The court cleared the law in June, days before lawmakers wrapped up their two-year session.
After President Barack Obama was re-elected this week, North Carolina was among dozens of states in a last-minute scramble to produce a blueprint for a statewide exchange where households and small businesses will shop for private coverage. GOP governors in Virginia and Georgia have indicated they'll default to Washington to set up the market in their states.
The Obama administration is also offering a partnership option in which states not fully prepared to run one of the new markets will run some functions and Washington others.
That's likely to be North Carolina's route until the General Assembly returns to Raleigh next year and hashes out what an insurance exchange would look like, said Adam Linker, a policy analyst with the Health Access Coalition, part of the liberal-leaning North Carolina Justice Center.
"They've sort of allowed this hybrid until states can meet and think about what kind of exchange they want," Linker said. "The idea is you can do that and then sort of transition to a state based exchange."
Although the Legislature did not pass legislation creating an exchange, it did state its intent to create one and directed the state Insurance Department and DHHS to keep working on the details.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio