published Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Tennessee gets money for health care changes

By the Numbers

Federal grant money awarded to build Affordable Insurance Exchanges

Tennessee: $9.1 million

Georgia: $1 million

Alabama: $9.6 million

With the federal health care reform law awaiting a Supreme Court decision due by the end of June, Tennessee officials continue to hedge their bets as they move to implement a key part of the law.

On Wednesday, the state accepted an additional $4.3 million in federal funds to establish a state-based health insurance exchange, bringing the total the state has received to more than $9 million. However, lawmakers adjourned their session earlier this month without passing legislation to implement an exchange where consumers can shop for health insurance.

"No one wants to invest a lot of money in a concept when we're not sure, that come July 1, after the Supreme Court has made its decision, whether we have to deal with it or not," Sen. Bo Watson said Wednesday. "My understanding is that we are fine and there is no need to be too urgent."

The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the grant Wednesday as part of $181 million awarded to six states. So far, states have been awarded more than $1 billion over the last two years to create the exchanges.

States will have until Nov. 16 to submit a blueprint for their health exchange and must have an operational exchange by January, 2014, officials said. That blueprint will have to include information about how the state will authorize the legislation. But actual passage of the legislation does not need to be in place, officials said.

"No matter which path the states take to build a marketplace, on January 2014, consumers in every single state will have access to health insurance on an affordable assurance exchange," HHS spokesman Steve Larsen said.

Only about a dozen states have passed legislation so far, while 13 have legislation pending, according to the National Conference of State Legislation website. Most of the other states have accepted some funding but have not passed any legislation on the issue.

On Wednesday, Larsen said he could not predict how many states will make the November deadline. If states do not implement their own exchange, a federal exchange will be implemented for them.

States also may partner with federal officials to provide the exchanges.

Larsen said officials are confident the Supreme Court would uphold the law. He declined to comment whether states will need to return the funding if the law is struck down.

Even though Tennessee is still in the planning stages of an exchange, Watson said the state's previous experience with TennCare means it is well-positioned to implement an exchange if it decides to do so.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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