NC rushes on deadline for online insurance market

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina officials scurried Friday ahead of a looming deadline for a new one-stop shop to help people buy affordable health insurance. The federal government will run the exchanges in states that are not ready or willing.

Gov. Beverly Perdue was conferring with advisers, while Gov.-elect Pat McCrory planned a conference call with other state chief executives, who are facing a deadline of next Friday to submit an outline for an online health insurance marketplace, spokesmen for both said. McCrory, a Republican, takes over for Perdue, a Democrat, in January.

Neither Perdue's office nor staff for the General Assembly's leaders provided an official able to discuss options the state is considering. Perdue was consulting with McCrory and state Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin about what to do, Perdue spokeswoman Christine Mackey said.

"We are determining which option would serve in the best interest of North Carolina families and taxpayers," Mackey said.

The scramble is over producing a blueprint for the state's health benefit exchange, a one-stop marketplace of private health plans for those who now have the hardest time finding coverage. The exchange is intended to make it easier to buy the insurance most people will be required to have beginning in 2014 or face paying a penalty under the Obama administration's health reform law.

The law's goal is reducing the number of state residents under age 65 who were without health insurance in 2010. That number stood at 1.6 million, according to the latest estimate by the North Carolina Institute of Medicine.

A recent check by The Associated Press found 16 states and the District of Columbia on track to setting up their own exchanges, while nine have decided they will not. The federal government could end up running the new markets in half or more of the states.

North Carolina lawmakers started work in 2011 on creating an exchange, but progress stalled as Republican leaders waited to see if the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Obamacare. The court cleared the law in June, days before lawmakers wrapped up their two-year session.

After President Barack Obama was re-elected this week, North Carolina was among dozens of states in a last-minute scramble to produce a blueprint for a statewide exchange where households and small businesses will shop for private coverage. GOP governors in Virginia and Georgia have indicated they'll default to Washington to set up the market in their states.

The Obama administration is also offering a partnership option in which states not fully prepared to run one of the new markets will run some functions and Washington others.

That's likely to be North Carolina's route until the General Assembly returns to Raleigh next year and hashes out what an insurance exchange would look like, said Adam Linker, a policy analyst with the Health Access Coalition, part of the liberal-leaning North Carolina Justice Center.

"They've sort of allowed this hybrid until states can meet and think about what kind of exchange they want," Linker said. "The idea is you can do that and then sort of transition to a state based exchange."

Although the Legislature did not pass legislation creating an exchange, it did state its intent to create one and directed the state Insurance Department and the Department of Health and Human Services to keep working on the details.

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio

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