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Fed deadline extension delays Brewer decision on insurance exchange

Brewer panel to 'transform' government to meet

Gov. jan Brewer. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Gov. Jan Brewer won’t decide on Friday whether to establish a state-run health insurance exchange after U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today extended the deadline to Dec. 14.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the governor wants to get more information and guidance from HHS before deciding on the exchange. He said there are significant questions remaining on the costs of the exchange, actuarial numbers and the central health benefits plan the exchange would include, among other issues.

“Governor Brewer wants to have as much information as possible in making a decision of this critical importance,” Benson said. “Governor Brewer is hopeful that, over the next three weeks, Arizona and other states are going to receive some of the specific guidance and information on key questions that we’ve been asking for months.”

Brewer had planned to make her decision on Friday, which had been the deadline for governors to submit their letters of intent to HHS.

In late 2011, Arizona received a $30 million grant from the federal government to begin planning for an exchange. Benson said he didn’t know how much of that money remained, but said not all of it had been spent.

He said the steps Brewer has taken toward an exchange, which included hiring a director for it and applying for federal grants, is not a sign that she’s leaning toward establishing a state-run exchange.

“I wouldn’t characterize the governor as leaning in either direction. She has, from the start, wanted to be in a position where the state would be ready if she opted to go with a state-based exchange. But she hasn’t made that determination,” Benson said.

The insurance exchanges, which are standardized health insurance marketplaces, are a major component of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law. Under the law, states that do not establish their own exchanges will have exchanges run by the federal government.

Arizona is one of only seven states that has not announced whether it will set up its own exchange, according to media reports. Idaho, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin also have not announced their decisions yet.

The issue has been a contentious one at the Legislature, whose approval Brewer will need for a state-run exchange. Many Republicans, who staunchly oppose the Affordable Care Act, do not want the state to run its own exchange, even if that means the federal government will run it for Arizona.

Sebelius informed the Republican Governors Association on Thursday that she was extending the deadline. The deadline for states to submit blueprints for their exchanges to the federal government, which Sebelius extended recently, is also Dec. 14.

Republican governors at the association’s annual conference in Las Vegas, which Brewer was attending at the time of the HHS announcement, wrote Sebelius a letter on Wednesday asking for more time to make their decisions, according to media reports.

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