JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney received conditional federal approval Tuesday to run an online marketplace where businesses with 50 or fewer employees can buy health insurance, starting in January.
Chaney was doing a telephone interview with The Associated Press when he received the notice from Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. He said the notice is good news. It allows the Mississippi Insurance Department to develop the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) exchange under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
With conditional approval, federal officials expect the Mississippi department will continue developing the marketplace called One Mississippi in compliance with PPACA, and “will be ready to provide affordable, quality coverage to small business owners and their employees in 2014,” Sebelius wrote in the letter, a copy of which Chaney sent to AP.
Chaney, a Republican, has said repeatedly that he opposes PPACA but believes it’s his duty to try to follow its mandates.
An exchange is an online marketplace, and there had long been uncertainty about whether the federal government would allow a state to run a SHOP exchange if the state were not running its own individual exchange. Mississippi’s individual exchange is run by the federal government because Republican Gov. Phil Bryant objected to a state-run exchange.
The notice about Mississippi’s SHOP exchange came the same day that people were first able to buy individual coverage through online insurance marketplaces created under PPACA.
In an interview with AP on Tuesday, Bryant repeated his objections to the law. He said the federal government is grabbing too large a role in health care.
“I think it’s going to be a disaster once people begin to understand it’s going to cost them money,” Bryant said.
The Mississippi Center for Health Policy estimated in 2012 that up to 275,000 Mississippians could get insurance through the individual exchange, with 230,000 qualifying for federal tax credits that would reduce what they pay.
Two companies are selling insurance policies through the individual exchange in Mississippi, and they overlap in only four of the 82 counties. Although Chaney’s office isn’t running the individual health exchange, he said it received about three dozen calls from consumers about it Tuesday.