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Feds OK Nevada's health exchange plans

Sandra Chereb, Associated Press

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- The federal government Thursday gave Nevada initial approval to run its own health insurance exchange program as called for under the federal health care reform law.

The announcement by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius means the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange is on track to begin taking enrollments in October.

"I applaud Nevada's work to build a new health insurance marketplace," Sebelius said in a statement, adding the state has made "significant progress" in its efforts.

Under the federal health care law, states were required to set up insurance exchange programs to help people find insurance coverage or the federal government would do it for them.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed and state lawmakers approved setting up the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange during the 2011 legislative session.

Sandoval opposed the health care law and Nevada was one of more than two dozen states that challenged it in court.

But even while the law's fate was uncertain, Sandoval pressed ahead with preparing to set up the exchange, saying it was better to have the state in charge rather than cede control to the federal government.

Nevada was one of four states with Republican governors to receive approval Thursday. The others were Idaho, New Mexico and Utah. To date, 17 states plus Washington, D.C. have been cleared to run their own insurance exchanges. Two other states formed partnerships.

In August, a state panel chaired by Sandoval approved a $72 million contract to set up the computer system and operations needed to begin enrolling people this fall.

But Sandoval has also said he would oppose long-term funding for the exchange if it takes away money from other state programs or requires a tax increase.

"I'm not going to be supportive of taking general fund dollars," he said earlier, adding the exchange would have to become self-sufficient if it is to continue long term.

Next week, a board overseeing the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange will hold a hearing to adopt regulations imposing a monthly fee on insurers who offer coverage through the exchange.

Under the proposed rates, insurers in 2014 would pay $4.95 for each health plan issued that doesn't include dental coverage; $5.31 for plans that include dental; and 36-cents for dental plans alone.

The fee would increase in each of the following three years to $8.62 for a combined health/dental plan in 2017 under the proposal.