HHS: ‘We will be ready’ with federal exchange

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Cohen addressed the department’s progress during a conference sponsored by the advocacy group Families USA — a prominent supporter of the Affordable Care Act.

Although the deadline to have an exchange up and running is 2014, the marketplaces actually have to be ready to accept enrollees by this October. The tight deadline is even tighter in light of Republican governors’ greater-than-expected resistance to setting up their own exchanges.

The healthcare law envisions each state setting up its own exchange but authorizes a federally run fallback in states that don’t act. So far, about 18 states have moved forward on their own marketplaces.

The federally facilitated exchange will be ready to accept applications from insurance plans in April, Cohen said. HHS must verify that plans meet certain federal criteria before allowing them into the federal exchange. States that set up their own exchanges have the option of enforcing additional requirements, or even negotiating directly with plans if they want to.

Coehn said work is ongoing on an information hub that will “ping” a slew of federal databases to verify that people seeking insurance through an exchange are eligible. All exchanges — state and federal — will be able to use the same centralized information hub.

HHS in the process of testing the data hub, Cohen said.