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Herbert: Still too many questions about Obamacare

Shannon Dininny, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah officials still have too many unanswered questions about President Barack Obama's health care law to decide whether the state will implement it, Gov. Gary Herbert said Monday in a letter to a federal official.

The federal government extended the deadline until Dec. 14 for states to determine what role, if any, they will play in implementing the law beginning in 2014.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Herbert said he would maintain Utah's own health exchange law in the near term. But he said whether the state continues that course depends on "far too many unanswered questions" about the federal alternative.

Herbert included a list of "Top Ten" unanswered questions about the federal exchanges, including how much it will cost the state to participate, whether state policy makers will have a role in influencing its operation, and how it would present options to consumers.

"In light of these and numerous other uncertainties, making any reasoned determination about the future of Utah's exchange or a federal exchange is virtually impossible," he said. "More time without answers accomplishes nothing."

Starting Jan. 1, 2014, individuals, families and small businesses will be able to buy private coverage through an exchange in their state, with most consumers getting government assistance to pay premiums. The exchanges will also help steer low-income, uninsured people into expanded Medicaid programs in many states.

The law is eventually expected to provide coverage to more than 30 million people through health insurance exchanges and expanded Medicaid programs.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had vowed to begin dismantling the program, but Obama's re-election guaranteed the survival of his signature law.

Now GOP governors who had opposed the law are scrambling to see if they can find an accommodation with the Obama administration.

In the letter, Herbert said he remains firmly convinced that meaningful health care reform is most effective when developed and implemented at the state level. Utah already operates its own version of a health insurance exchange, and he said he will continue to pursue state-based reforms.

Ultimately, decisions about the federal health care law depend on answers to critical questions that affect Utah's budgets and markets, he said, and require consultation with state lawmakers who don't convene until January.