Reporting from Washington — In another bid to help states implement the new healthcare law, the Obama administration Friday unveiled a new competitive grant program that will give five states money to develop Internet-based insurance exchanges.
These exchanges, a key foundation of the new law, are regulated online markets in which consumers who don't get health benefits through work will be able to shop for insurance plans, much like consumers now shop online for airline tickets, hotels and other products. The exchanges are to open in 2014.
The administration has already awarded $1-million planning grants to 48 states and the District of Columbia to begin work on these exchanges. ( Minnesota and Alaska, where Republican state officials have been particularly critical of the new law, declined the grants).
The "Early Innovators" grants announced Friday are designed to help states develop the technology systems needed to run the exchanges, according to officials at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Administration officials said they hope the winning states will come up with systems that could serve as models for the remaining states. "The technology is to be shared," said Joel Ario, who is overseeing the exchange initiative at the department.
States will compete to get the grants. But Ario would not specify the potential size of the grants, saying the administration would look to how much states seek in their applications. The grants are to be awarded by February, Ario said.