Mt. Vernon Register-News

State News

February 14, 2013

Feds approve Ill. health exchange with conditions

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CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois has received conditional federal approval for its plan to help run an online marketplace where thousands of state residents will shop for health insurance beginning Oct. 1 — a big step toward carrying out the national health law in the state.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued an approval letter Wednesday to Gov. Pat Quinn that lays out six conditions, some with deadlines, which the state must meet. The letter was released to The Associated Press by Quinn's office.

The milestone was celebrated with a press conference featuring Sebelius and Quinn at a Chicago medical clinic, where an uninsured woman spoke about her hopes for affordable insurance.

Celeste Castillo, 56, an immigrant from Guatemala and a U.S. citizen since 1996, spoke at the press conference. The suburban Chicago resident is a self-employed nanny.

"I have been in this country 37 years. All of those years have been without insurance," Castillo said. "Today, I can so happily say that is no longer going to be just a dream, to have affordable insurance."

Conditional approval isn't unusual. All the federal government's approvals of health insurance marketplaces have been conditional so far, but deadlines set in the letter — including some for choosing contractors to do some of the work — will mean state officials remain under extreme pressure to get the online marketplace up and running.

"I do think they can meet these conditions," said Sonya Schwartz of the National Academy for State Health Policy, which has been tracking states' progress on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. "They've got a lot of work to do to move to being a state exchange."

Illinois, Obama's home state, is partnering with the federal government to offer the online marketplace for coverage in 2014 — and that's the step that received conditional approval Wednesday.

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