SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert is asking President Barack Obama to approve a health insurance exchange the state already has in place and declare that it meets the requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA).
Herbert sent the letter Tuesday, ahead of Friday’s deadline for states to decide if they’ll do their own PPACA exchange. Utah’s exchange was launched on a limited basis in 2009 and fully implemented two years later.
In his letter, the governor asks Obama to proclaim Utah’s plan a model for other states, saying the state’s program gives 7,600 people at 318 small businesses a choice of 140 health insurance plans. The state is planning on expanding its exchange.
Exchanges are online health insurance marketplaces pioneered in Utah and Massachusetts, although the two states have taken very different approaches.
“The Utah model is innovative in its simplicity,” Herbert said.
But significant changes would be needed for it to comply with the federal law and there are two main sticking points, said Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
First, Utah’s plan is not designed to offer health insurance to individuals as required in the federal law. Secondly, Utah’s is not structured to distribute federal tax credits aimed at low income people who are uninsured. Utah plans to open up the plan to individuals in the future.
Erin Shields Britt, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the letter is being reviewed.
Herbert says he needs answers to make a decision by Friday.
He says the plan required in the federal health care law would include fewer choices and make people more dependent on public programs.
“I am confident that if you make this change, several other states will join Utah and request certification for ‘state based exchanges’ based on our model, thus spreading a proven approach that lowers costs and increases access,” Herbert said.
Nationally, there are different assessments of Utah’s program, Tolbert said. Some consider the 140 choices within the plan a positive but others say that’s too many and overwhelms participants.