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Mich. OK'd to partner with feds on health market

David Eggert, Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan is cleared to partner with the federal government on setting up an online market where people can buy health insurance required by the health care overhaul, President Barack Obama's administration announced Thursday.

The news came as Republican lawmakers consider whether to authorize the state to spend a $31 million federal grant to help plan the marketplace, or exchange.

"Working together, we will be ready in seven months when residents of Michigan will be able to use the new marketplace to easily purchase quality, affordable health insurance plans," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.

The GOP-led state House last week voted 78-31 in favor of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's request for spending authorization. With conservatives and tea party groups pressuring Michigan to have no involvement in the exchange, however, the GOP-controlled Senate is being cautious.

"I'm not going to ram it and try and do things fast," Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, said Wednesday. "We're going to take a look at it over the next week or two, listen to what other peoples' opinions are, and see whether we should move it or not."

Twenty-three states are running their own insurance markets or partnering with the federal government to do so. Another 26 states, opposed to the federal overhaul, have opted to let Washington run their markets. Utah's status is unclear.

Sebelius also approved Iowa, New Hampshire and West Virginia to run their own exchanges Thursday. All four states' approvals are conditional.

Michigan's OK is contingent in part on receiving legal and spending authority from the Legislature, which last year balked at Snyder's plan for the state to have its own exchange.

Open enrollment on Michigan's market is scheduled to begin Oct. 1, with coverage kicking in Jan. 1. The marketplace is supposed to make it easier to shop for insurance that people have to carry starting in 2014, with some receiving income-based federal aid to help pay their premiums. Small businesses also can use the exchange.

Though it is being called a partnership, the exchange would be controlled mostly by federal officials. Michigan could handle some customer service functions and approve state-based insurers wanting to offer health plans.

People cannot be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.