The Obama administration has kick-started work on establishing Internet-based health insurance exchanges in many American states by awarding them more than $185 million in grants. The funds have been given to California, 12 other states, and the District of Columbia for new state-based health insurance marketplaces where consumers can compare insurance schemes and shop accordingly for insurance starting in 2014. This is a key benefit of the new health care law.
The online exchange has been designed to help Americans who don't receive health benefits through their employer. The system is intended to make buying health insurance akin to comparison shopping online for an airline ticket or a hotel room. The health care providers will supply basic information about health plans, including premiums and covered benefits.
An estimated 24 million Americans will have access to health insurance by 2019. Most of them will receive subsidies to help them buy a health plan because they are not expected to earn much so as to bear the full cost.
Employers with fewer than 100 workers also will be able to use the exchanges, which will have to offer plans with a minimum level of coverage. No plans will be able to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
Obama administration officials have been racing to get states to set up exchanges because they are central to the coverage expansion envisioned by the new law. That effort has been embraced by some state leaders and resisted by others critical of the law.
The new grants went primarily to states with Democratic governors who moved quickly to implement the new law. They are:
California: $39.4 million
Connecticut: $6.7 million
District of Columbia: $8.2 million
Illinois: $5.1 million
Kentucky: $7.7 million
Maryland: $27.2 million
Minnesota: $4.2 million
Mississippi: $20.1 million
Missouri: $20.9 million
Nevada: $4 million
New York: $10.8 million
North Carolina: $12.4 million
Oregon: $9 million
West Virginia: $9.7 million