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GAO report signals trouble with health insurance exchanges beyond Mississippi

By Ted Carter

Mississippi may not be alone among the states for which federal officials have fallen perilously behind in getting health insurance market place exchanges ready for open enrollment Oct.1

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, says the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has missed a series of deadlines and another miss could cause CMS to fall short of the all-important Oct. 1 deadline.

“While the interim deadlines missed by CMS and states thus far may not affect progress, any additional missed deadlines closer to the start of enrollment could do so,” the GAO said in a June 19 report to Congress.

Several critical tasks, such as final testing with federal and state partners, remain to be completed, the reported noted.

The road ahead for the CMS in Mississippi could be especially challenging. With fewer than three months left, the CMS has yet to find health insurance providers for 36 Mississippi counties. The agency, an arm of the Health & Human Services Administration, has lined up only one provider for 42 counties. Four counties – Hinds, Rankin, Madison and Desoto—have two providers designated – Humana and Magnolia Health.

The insurance exchanges, now designated as federal facilitated marketplaces, are to serve as points of access for the uninsured to purchase health insurance. The hope voice by designers of the exchange provision in the Affordable Care Act has been that so many providers would compete to write policies that rates would go down.

That absence of interest in insuring Mississippi counties may severely test that theory.

Only 18 states are designing their own exchanges. Either governors or legislatures in 20 states, including Mississippi, blocked their insurance departments from participating, according to the GAO report. An additional 15 states are expected to assist CMS in carrying out certain market exchange functions, the GAO said.

Responding to the GAO report, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services assured Congress the exchanges will be ready for open enrollment on Oct. 1 and for the policies sold on the exchanges to go into effect Jan. 1, 2014.

The GAO is not saying for sure that exchange won’t open on time, but does not sound as if it would wager heavily on that occurring. “Much remains to be completed within a relatively short amount of time,” the GAO said.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has granted a one year to 2015 in t5he Affordable Health Care Act’s mandate that many companies provide health insurance coverage for their workers or face fines.

The administration cited the complexities of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively, he Associated Press reported.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, say the extension of the employer insurance mandate is a sign that the health care market exchanges won’t be ready on time, either.



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