The Washington Times - November 29, 2011, 02:53PM

More than half the states have accepted federal assistance for setting up new insurance exchanges, with a second round of grants announced Tuesday by the Obama administration.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is doling out $220 million to 13 states to use for creating exchanges — a major part of President Obama’s health care overhaul aimed at making coverage more accessible for Americans.

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Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Vermont all received grants, officials said. With this newest batch of grants, 29 states have received federal dollars for setting up an exchange.

The Affordable Care Act requires each state to have a functioning insurance exchange by 2014, which will be run by the federal government if a state opts out.

With some states complaining that they don’t have enough time, HHS also relaxed some rules surrounding exchanges, extending the grant application deadline by six months and permitting states to use grants to create exchanges even if they’re not up and running by Jan. 1, 2014.

And in July, the agency also granted states more latitude around an earlier deadline of January 2013 — the point at which they must demonstrate readiness to run an exchange.

Uncertainties about the health care law persist as the Supreme Court prepares to hear challenges to its constitutionality next summer, but HHS officials urged states to keep implementing its provisions.

“We continue to encourage states to come in and move forward and not let anything stay in the way,” said Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, director of coverage policy. “We’re confident that the law will be upheld.”