Health Care Deadline Looms: How States Are Setting Up the Exchanges

PHOTO: President Barack Obama walks out of Blair House in Washington, Dec. 13, 2012.
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All of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, doesn't go into effect until 2014, but states are required to set up their own health care exchanges or leave it to the federal government to step in by next year. The deadline for the governors' decisions is today, and both Virginia and Florida are still undecided. Both are run by Republican governors, and they are the only states that have not made an official declaration one way or the other.

A spokesperson for Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said Friday that a decision was likely to come Friday afternoon, while the office of Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday there was no update at the time.

The health insurance exchanges are one of the key stipulations of the new health care law. They will offer consumers an Internet-based marketplace for purchasing private health insurance plans.

But the president's signature health care plan has become so fraught with politics that whether governors agreed to set up the exchanges has fallen mostly along party lines.

Such partisanship is largely symbolic because if a state opts not to set up the exchange, the Department of Health and Human Services will do it for them as part of the federal program. That would not likely be well-received by Republican governors, either, but the law forces each state's chief executive to make a decision one way or the other.

Here's what it looks like in all 50 states and the District of Columbia:

20 states that have opted out -- N.J., S.C., La., Wis., Ohio, Maine, Ala., Alaska, Ariz., Ga., Pa., Kan., Neb., N.H., N.D., Okla., S.D., Tenn., Texas and Wyo.

Several Republican governors have said they will not set up the exchanges, including Chris Christie (N.J.), Nikki Haley (S.C.), Bobby Jindal (La.), Scott Walker (Wis.), John Kasich (Ohio), Paul LePage (Maine), Robert Bentley (Ala.), Sean Parnell (Ark.), Jan Brewer (Ariz.), Nathan Deal (Ga.), Tom Corbett (Pa.), Sam Brownback (Kan.), Dave Heineman (Neb.), John Lynch (N.H.), Jack Dalrymple (N.D.), Mary Fallin (Okla.), Dennis Daugaard (S.D.), Bill Haslam (Tenn.), Rick Perry (Texas), and Matt Mead (Wyo.).

3 States Out, but a Little More Complicated -- Mont., Ind. and Mo.

The Montana outgoing and incoming governors are both Democrats, but the Republican state legislature rejected the Democratic state auditor's request to start setting up a state exchange. So a federal exchange will be set up in Montana as well.

The Indiana outgoing and incoming governors are both Republicans and outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels deferred the decision to governor-elect and U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, who said his preference is not to set up a state health care exchange, paving the way for the feds to come in too.

In Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon is a Democrat, but Prop E passed on Nov. 6, which barred his administration from creating a state-based exchange without a public vote or the approval of the state legislature. After the election, he sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services saying he would be unable to set up a state-based exchange, meaning the federal government would have to set up its own.

1 State Waiting for the White House -- Utah

Utah already has a state exchange set up, a Web-based tool where small-business employees can shop and compare health insurance with contributions from their employee. In a letter Republican Gov. Gary Herbert sent to the White House Tuesday, he asked for its exchange, called Avenue H, to be approved as a state-based exchange under the Affordable Care Act as long as state officials can open it to individuals and larger businesses.

Norm Thurston, the state's health reform implementation coordinator, says authorities there "haven't received an official response" from the White House, but "we anticipate getting one soon."

There are some sticking points that don't comply with the exchanges envisioned by the Affordable Care Act and Utah would like to keep it that way.

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