Obama Administration Extends Deadline For State Exchanges — Again

Bowing to a request from Republican governors, the Obama administration announced late Thursday that it would give states more time to decide whether to build online health insurance markets that will help millions of people buy coverage starting next fall.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius pushed back the deadline until Dec. 14 for states to submit letters of intent to build the state-based markets, called exchanges. The original deadline had been Friday, Nov. 16. 

“We are committed to providing states with the flexibility, resources and time they need to deliver the benefits of the health care law to the American people,” Sebelius wrote Thursday to the Republican Governors Association (RGA).  “We will continue to work directly with individual states to address their particular questions and concerns.”

The letter was in response to an RGA request Wednesday to extend the deadlines until HHS publishes rules detailing how the exchanges would work. A slew of regulations are expected to be published in the next few weeks.

The markets are a key element of the health care law — where millions of individuals are expected to shop for coverage and find out if they are eligible for government subsidies or Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor. The law requires the federal government to build and operate the markets if states do not.

In a statement last night, the RGA thanked the agency for its response, but it was unclear whether the additional time would change anyone’s mind. As of Thursday, only 17 states and the District of Columbia had committed to building their own exchanges — far fewer than envisioned by the administration when the law was passed in 2010.

“We appreciate the administration’s acknowledgement that not enough information has been provided to the governors and hope this is a signal that the White House intends to engage directly with the governors on the substantial policy issues that remain unresolved and are open to real reform,” said RGA spokesman Mike Schrimpf.

A week ago, Sebelius had given states until Dec. 14 to submit detailed plans to build the state-based markets, and until Feb. 15 to submit plans to partner with the federal government.

Seven states remain undecided on whether to build state-based exchanges — Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Idaho, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Arizona and Wisconsin.

The rest have indicated they planned to partner with the federal government to run the exchanges, or to allow the federal government to do it.