Feds OK Nevada’s health exchange plans

CARSON CITY – 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 start taking enrollments in October. “I applaud Nevada’s work to build a new health insurance marketplace,” Sebelius in a statement, adding that 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 insurance coverage, or the federal government would do it for them.

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. 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 than to cede control to the federal government.

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.

In August, a panel led by Sandoval approved a $72 million contract to set up the computer system and operations needed to start enrolling people this fall. But Sandoval has said he would oppose long-term funding for the exchange if it takes money from other state programs or requires a tax increase.

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 plan issued that doesn’t include dental coverage; $5.31 for plans that include dental; and 36 cents for dental plans alone. The fee would increase in each of the next three years to $8.62 for a combined health/dental plan in 2017.

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