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Maryland gets approval to operate health exchange

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland has received conditional approval by the federal government to operate a state-based health insurance exchange in 2014, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown announced Monday.

Maryland is among the first six states to get the approval. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has certified the Maryland Health Connection to operate for the first plan year in 2014. The agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for overseeing the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the nation’s largest health insurance programs.

“Our progress has been the result of insurance producers, carriers, third-party administrators, health care providers, advocates, and consumers coming together to build a marketplace that will best meet the needs of individuals and small businesses throughout Maryland,” Brown said.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius described it as a significant milestone toward establishing an exchange in Maryland.

“Conditional approval reflects the substantial progress the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange has made and an expectation that MHBE will be ready to provide affordable, quality coverage for consumers and small businesses in 2014,” Sebelius said in a statement included in the state’s announcement.

The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange will operate Maryland Health Connection as the online portal where individuals, families and small businesses will compare health insurance options. It also will enable them to determine eligibility for tax credits, cost-sharing reductions and enroll in qualified health plans or public programs, such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, starting in October 2013 for coverage effective January 2014.

The state says as many as 150,000 individuals are expected to enroll in qualified health plans during the first year of operations of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. That is estimated to increase to about 275,000 by 2020.