Feds accept Utah health insurance exchange

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The federal government has given Utah the green light to move forward with its existing health insurance exchange.

Utah was one of four states led by Republican governors to get approvals Thursday from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The others were Nevada, New Mexico and Nevada.

Counting previous approvals, 17 states plus Washington, D.C., have been cleared to run their own insurance exchanges.

Washington will set up the new insurance markets in states that don't want to participate. But at least nine other states are considering partnerships with the administration.

Open enrollment for millions of uninsured Americans is less than 10 months away — Oct. 1.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the approvals with a news release and has a conference call scheduled for Thursday to offer more information.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, announced last month that his state would stick with its own existing health insurance exchange in hopes that the federal government would find it acceptable under the regulations of the health care overhaul.

Exchanges are online health insurance marketplaces pioneered in Utah and Massachusetts. Utah's exchange was launched on a limited basis in 2009 and fully implemented two years later.

In the days leading up to the Dec. 14 deadline for states to choose their path, Herbert and Sebelius exchanged letters. In the final one outlining his decision, Herbert said there are several problems with federal exchanges and that he would prefer a state-based approach to stay true to "Utah principles."

Herbert wrote that he intends "to move forward with Utah's version of an exchange" and requested that HHS certify it as compliant with the new federal law.

"You will find it meets the broad goals and objectives," Herbert wrote.

Utah appears willing to meet the federal government part way in order to maintain an exchange it believes should be a model for the rest of the country. In a chart sent to the federal government showing nine areas where Utah's exchange differs from the kind envisioned in the federal health care law, state officials highlight plans to provide an individual health insurance market by 2014.

That's significant, because analysts say Utah's lack of plans for individuals is a major hurdle to making it compatible with the requirements set out in the Affordable Care Act. That law was ushered through and signed into law by President Obama in 2010.

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Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington contributed to this report.

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