Filed Under:Markets, Employee Benefits

Sebelius: We've built the exchange hub

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius  (AP photo/Charles Dharapak)
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (AP photo/Charles Dharapak)

U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told members of the House Ways and Means Committee that the exchanges are coming.

"We are confident we will launch the health insurance exchanges," Sebelius testified today at a hearing the committee organized on the Obama administration's HHS budget proposal for fiscal year 2014. "We will be open for open enrollment Oct. 1."

The data hub to be at the heart of the exchange system is "basically completed and paid for," Sebelius said.

The Obama administration has asked for $78 billion in discretionary budget authority for HHS for 2014. HHS could be responsible for a total of $967 billion in outlays over the next 10 years.

Much of the spending would be on programs related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA). PPACA calls for HHS to work with the states and the District of Columbia to set up a system of exchanges, or Web-based health insurance markets, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia by Oct. 1, with the first coverage sold to take effect Jan. 1, 2014.

In response to questions about some states' resistance to participating in the exchange program, Sebelius said that 31 states and the District of Columbia are either setting up their own exchanges or working with HHS to set up "partnership" exchanges.

In some other states, officials are saying that their states might take over exchange services once HHS sets up the exchanges, Sebelius said.

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, asked about the possibility that congressional resistance to funding the exchange program could interfere with efforts to get the exchanges started on time.

"It would be helpful" if Congress responds positively to HHS requests for funding, Sebelius said.

But "I think we are definitely on track to implement the law as it is anticipated," Sebelius said.

In response to reports that employers are worried about what PPACA will do to insured and self-insured group health plans, Sebelius said she is meeting regularly with employers to allay the concerns and hopes that, once the exchanges are open, employers will like them.

For some employers that are now unable to find or afford coverage, the new PPACA system might increase their ability to offer health benefits, Sebelius said. 

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