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Alaska letting feds establish health insurance exchange

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Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2012 10:44 am | Updated: 12:09 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

JUNEAU, Alaska - Alaska is not one of the states that will be setting up a state-run health insurance exchange under the federal health care law.

Gov. Sean Parnell made his intention clear in July, saying "federally mandated programs should be paid for by federal dollars." He stood behind that decision ahead of what had been a Friday deadline for states to declare their intentions - and had no second thoughts, spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said. The Obama administration on Thursday extended the deadline to Dec. 14, as other states continued to weigh their decision.

"The federal law passed more than two years ago and there are still many unknowns regarding the exchanges," Leighow said by email Thursday, adding that the state health department was still awaiting answers on a number of issues related to how an exchange would work. "Bottom line: Governor Parnell is not going to commit the state to a program that is largely undefined at this point."

A n exchange is a marketplace for coverage options. Under the health care law, the federal government can step in and establish exchanges in states where none exist. In July, Parnell also said that using state funds and personnel to design and implement an exchange was the most expensive option before the state.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, who last year proposed legislation to establish a state-run exchange, said Parnell has been "consistently wrong" on the issue - from the constitutionality of the law to relying on the government to implement the exchange. Alaska was among the states that challenged the constitutionality of provisions of the law. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year upheld most of the law.

"Alaskans have long believed they are in a better position to run this state than the federal government," French said. "I think in this particular (case), you'll see instances where a person with local knowledge and local input would create a better exchange t han one that will be written for us in Washington, D.C."

Josh Applebee, deputy director for health care policy with the state health department, said it's too early to say what Alaskans can expect from a federally established exchange, given the unanswered questions that state still has.

Also, "At this point we don't know if there will be input from the states, or when Alaskans will be able to see a draft or final design," he said.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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