Gov. Chris Gregoire announced today that the state will receive a $128 million federal Level II Exchange Establishment Grant to develop and implement the state's Health Benefit Exchange, which will help residents find, compare, and enroll in health care coverage in 2014. Washington is only the second state in the nation to qualify for the Level II Exchange grant.
"I am extremely proud of the great strides Washington has made to ensure everyone in our state will have access to quality, affordable health care," said Gregoire. "Receiving this Level II grant is a testament to our position as a leader in the nation in this field. This grant will allow us to continue progress and create the Health Benefit Exchange that will connect hundreds of thousands of people in our state to needed coverage."
The grant will be used to support such activities as the development of policies by the Exchange Board, the creation of an Exchange infrastructure, and the design of a consumer engagement and marketing campaign. The Exchange will also need to ensure a revenue source is in place so it can be self-sustaining by 2015. A substantial portion of the funding will be used to develop an IT system that facilitates critical Exchange functions, including eligibility determinations and facilitating enrollment and information exchange among individuals, employers, insurance carriers, and state and federal agencies.
"There is a lot of work ahead of us before the Exchange is ready for business in fall 2013, and this grant ensures we have the necessary resources to open the doors on time," said Richard K. Onizuka, Ph.D., Exchange chief executive officer. "There is no doubt the Exchange will change the way people find, compare, and enroll in health insurance plans, and our goal is to make the process more transparent and less stressful along the way."
Previously, Washington received a nearly $1 million planning grant and a $23 million Level I Establishment Grant to support Exchange development. These grants are made available to states by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
"The Affordable Care Act has already produced tangible benefits for the people in our state by allowing young adults up to age 26 to stay on their parent's health plans and saving seniors on Medicare hundreds of dollars on their prescription drugs," said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. "This grant will allow Washington to implement another important reform by creating a health insurance marketplace that places consumers first."
The Washington Health Benefit Exchange will be a new marketplace for individuals and small businesses in Washington to purchase private health insurance coverage and gain access to tax credits, reduced cost sharing, and public programs such as Medicaid. The Exchange will begin enrolling consumers on October 1, 2013, for health insurance coverage beginning on January 1, 2014.
Initial work on the Exchange was supervised by the Health Care Authority before it became a quasi-governmental entity on March 15, 2012. The Exchange is now governed by an independent 11-member governing board appointed by Gov. Gregoire in December 2011.
"In the past, low-income Americans and small businesses have lacked purchasing power as well as the ability to pool risk," said Doug Porter, HCA Director. "But that changes with the advent of the state exchanges, which will provide millions with one-stop shopping for affordable coverage. HCA and the Medicaid program will remain strong partners with the Exchange, and up to half of the uninsured in our state are likely to be Medicaid eligible."
More information about the Exchange is available at www.hca.wa.gov.