States should try to choose essential health benefits (EHB) benchmark plans by the end of the third quarter.
Officials at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have given that advice in a new batch of answers to frequently asked questions posted on the CMS website.
CMS and its parent, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), are developing EHB guidelines to implement the EHB section of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA).
PPACA calls for health plans to offer a standardized EHB package by 2014 in an effort to help consumers compare health plans on an apples-to-apples basis.
HHS officials reported in December 2011 that they are thinking of letting each state create its own EHB package by using local benchmark plans, such as state government health plans or popular small group health plans.
A state will probably use the same EHB benchmark plans for both 2014 and 2015, but HHS may tinker with the selection process for 2016, officials say.