State wins $128 million health exchange grant

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor



Washington will receive a $128 million federal grant to develop and implement the state’s Health Benefit Exchange, which will essentially be a marketplace for consumers to find, compare and enroll in health care coverage beginning in 2014.

Washington is only the second state in the nation to qualify for a Level II grant for health exchange development. Money will go toward policy development, creation of a program infrastructure and information technology system, and design of a marketing campaign. Program leaders also need a plan to make the exchange self-sustaining by 2015, Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a news release.

The state had previously received a nearly $1 million planning grant and $23 million in Level I grant funds. Money comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

As envisioned, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange will function as an online marketplace for

individuals and small businesses in Washington to purchase private health insurance coverage and gain access to tax credits, cost savings, and health care programs such as Medicaid. The exchange will begin enrolling consumers in October 2013 for health insurance coverage beginning in January 2014.

The exchange became a quasi-governmental entity on March 15, and it is now governed by an independent 11-member governing board appointed by Gov. Gregoire in December.

The Washington grant was one of six grants, totaling more than $181 million, announced Wednesday by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Level I grants were awarded to Illinois, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, and Tennessee. Those grants go to states that have begun the process of building their health care exchange. Washington is only the second state, in addition to Rhode Island, to be awarded a Level II grant, Sebelius said.

To date, exchange-related grants provided to states over the last two years total more than $1 billion, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. States can apply for the grants through the end of 2014, and these funds are available for states to use beyond 2014, the department said.

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