CMS Official Pledges Health Exchanges Will Open On Time

With the deadline for the Affordable Care Act's health insurance marketplaces officially eight months away, Gary Cohen, who is overseeing their implementation for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), assured health care advocates Thursday that they would open on schedule.
by | February 1, 2013

With the deadline for the Affordable Care Act's health insurance marketplaces officially eight months away, Gary Cohen, who is overseeing their implementation for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), assured health care advocates Thursday that they would open on schedule.

"Everyone wants to know: will we be ready? Yes, we will be ready," Cohen told the crowd at the Health Action 2013 conference hosted by Families USA, a national advocacy group that has supported the law.

Under the ACA, the marketplaces -- similar to Expedia or Orbitz for health coverage and expected to serve as many as 20 million people in the next decade -- are supposed to open for enrollment on Oct. 1, so they can sell insurance plans that start on Jan. 1, 2014.

But several sources involved with state exchange planning have recently told Governing that they believe CMS is planning for contingencies if that deadline proves impossible. That could mean pushing the opening back from Oct. 1, but keeping it before Jan. 1; or it could mean opening after Jan. 1 and selling plans that are retroactive to the beginning of 2014.

CMS officials have responded to those claims by saying they are confident that the exchanges will debut as planned, and Cohen's comments echoed that confidence.

The ACA deadlines have always been viewed as aggressive by state officials, and a lack of state enthusiasm has already led CMS to loosen some of the earlier exchange deadlines. Complicating the matter is the fact that more states than expected are opting not to create their own exchanges, which means the federal government will be running 25 or more next year.

But federal guidance has been steadily flowing since President Barack Obama won re-election in November, and Cohen said his office will continue to work closely with states to make sure everything runs smoothly this fall.

"It's easy for me to say that we'll be ready and we have been saying that," Cohen said. "But we're now eight months away, so it's time for us to start showing it, and I think we are."

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