Christie among GOP governors taking fed funds for health law

Four states with Republican governors received federal grants Wednesday to help implement a key feature of President Obama’s healthcare law.

The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) awarded nearly $230 million to 10 states to help them establish insurance exchanges — new marketplaces to compare and buy healthcare policies. Although most Republican governors have railed against the healthcare law, several have also taken steps to establish their own exchanges and avoid the prospect of the federal government taking over the task.

The GOP-led states receiving healthcare grants Wednesday include New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie is a leader in the conservative movement and has been mentioned as a potential vice-presidential candidate. The Republican governors of Nevada, Pennsylvania and Tennessee also accepted grants, along with six Democrat-led states.

The healthcare law calls on each state to set up its own exchange and allows HHS to establish a fallback in states that don’t take action themselves. That threat has helped motivate some Republican governors to begin implementing the healthcare law even though they oppose it.

Every state except Alaska initially received a $1 million planning grant for its exchange. Thirty-three states have received additional funding since then, according to HHS.

The new marketplaces are supposed to be up and running nationwide by 2014, and HHS must certify by 2013 whether each state will be able to meet that deadline. But only a handful of state legislatures have passed bills to authorize an exchange.

Steve Larsen, the director of the HHS office overseeing most of the healthcare reform implementation effort, said HHS will extend the deadlines for states to request grants. The department clearly wants states to set up their own marketplaces and has offered to handle certain parts of the process rather than taking over entirely in states that have lagged on their exchanges.