HHS extends Friday healthcare deadline for states

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States now have until Dec. 14 to decide whether they want to run their exchanges entirely on their own (though using billions of dollars in federal grant money). Those that don't will have until Feb. 15 to decide whether they want to work in partnership with the federal government or cede the task entirely to Washington.

"States have and will continue to be partners in implementing the health care law and 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," HHS said in a letter to Republican governors. "We will continue to work directly with individual states to address their particular questions and concerns."

Several GOP governors have categorically rejected the idea of doing any work to implement "ObamaCare," but others are torn between their political opposition to the law and their desire to control their own healthcare systems. Some governors had requested extra time to make a decision.

Dec. 15 was already the deadline for states to file specific plans for their state-based exchanges — only a notice of intent was due tomorrow. So, as states looked for more time, HHS pushed the deadline for a decision back to match the deadline for a plan.

The healthcare law requires HHS to certify by 2013 whether each state will be able to have its own exchange up and running by Jan. 1, 2014, and to step in with a federally run fallback in states that won't be ready. Healthcare wonks agree that state-run exchanges would work better than a federal fallback, and HHS has bent over backward to coax states into doing the job themselves, or at least sharing the responsibility with the federal government.