Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, R (Governor's office photo)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has attracted three major carriers to the state’s health insurance exchange program.

The Alabama Department of Insurance said Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama and a unit of UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH) have applied for permission to sell exchange coverage, or “qualified health plans” (QHPs), throughout the state.

Humana Inc. (NYSE:HUM) has proposed plans to sell QHPs in 50 of the 67 counties.

All three companies are awaiting federal approval for their QHP proposals.

The proposals mean that Alabama should have no counties left out of the exchange program, officials said.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) calls for states to open exchanges, or health insurance supermarkets for individuals and small groups, Oct. 1, with the first coverage sold taking effect Jan. 1, 2014.

HHS will operate a “federally facilitated exchange” in Alabama because Gov. Robert Bentley, R, was opposed to the idea of the state setting up a state-based exchange.

HHS has awarded $2.4 million in grants to 13 Alabama organizations to help educate uninsured citizens about the new coverage options and get signed up.

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