Maryland gets $6.2 million for health exchanges

Maryland is one of a small number of states selected by the federal government to receive millions of dollars in grants to set up the framework for the health exchanges that will be required under the federal health care reform law passed last year.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will announce Wednesday that Maryland will receive $6.2 million to help create a health exchange that health officials hope will be a model for other states. Six others states are sharing in a total of $241 million in grants.

Under health care reform everybody will be required to buy health insurance. For those who don't get it through employers, states will set up exchanges where small businesses and individuals could buy insurance at competitive rates.

"This helps Maryland move forward in our efforts to implement health care reform" said Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. "

The grants are to be used to create the IT infrastructure of the exchanges to help develop a site that's easily navigated. The exchanges are to operate in 2014, when health care reform will be fully implemented.

"For many Marylanders this will be their first experience in the health insurance arena," Brown said. "We've got to make the experience as seamless and easy as possible. We can't let complexities deter those who would otherwise look for insurance not do it because it's not accessible."

The state had already received $1 million in federal money for initial planning of the exchanges and will apply for other grants as well, said Maryland Health Secretary Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein.

Legislation is pending in the General Assembly that would create a framework for structuring the state exchanges as an independent government agency. Sharfstein and Brown testified in favor of the legislation at a hearing Tuesday.

"The legislation really is just a step for the creation of the exchange," Sharfstein said. We are arranging the pieces on the chess board. Having this grant to support the building blocks for some of the IT initiatives is another move."

Nearly 14 percent of Marylanders, or 700,000 people, don't have insurance.

HHS officials said they chose Maryland because it had already made strides toward creating an exchange. Other states that received grants were Kansas, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wisconsin. Massachusetts will lead a consortium of states in New England in developing a system.

The grants were awarded as the health care reform law faces court challenges, but the federal government has continued implementation. ankwalker

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