HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett's administration remained noncommittal after it received a one-month extension to tell the federal government whether Pennsylvania will be setting up a health insurance market under President Barack Obama's health care law.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Republican governors Thursday evening that the administration was responding to their request for more time by delaying a Friday deadline to declare their intentions until Dec. 14. States can still opt to have theirs run by the federal government or join in a partnership with Washington.
Corbett administration officials would not say Friday which direction they plan to take. But they say they have put off development of the online exchange by 2014 because too many questions about its cost and other operational details remain unanswered.
We are still looking at it and you've heard me say this before, I'm looking at the cost, Corbett said earlier this month. I'm looking at the cost to Pennsylvania taxpayers and whether we can afford it. I have some ideas of where we're going, but I'm not ready to announce it right now.
There is no penalty for launching a state-run exchange after 2014, Pennsylvania officials also say.
Some states, including New York and California, will run their own exchange. Texas and Virginia are among those that rejected it, meaning the federal government will run the exchange.
Many states put off a decision until after the Nov. 6 election, because the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, had said he would move to repeal the 2010 law known as the Affordable Care Act. With Obama's victory, Republicans acknowledged that the law would go forward.
In her Thursday letter to the Republican Governors Association, of which Corbett is a member, Sebelius said her agency has given information and guidance to states regarding the law, and that more will be forthcoming.
Some Democratic lawmakers, insurers and hospitals want Corbett to set up a state-run system. The state's two largest health insurers, Pittsburgh-based Highmark and Philadelphia-based Independence Blue Cross, both prefer a state-run market, or at least as much state involvement as possible.
But given the tightening time frame to get one running by 2014, Highmark spokesman Michael Weinstein said it is more important that the market provide a broad choice of plans with all insurers regulated equally.
Geisinger Health System, which operates across central and northeastern Pennsylvania, prefers a state-run exchange because it would be better-tailored to the state and less bureaucratic.
However, at this late date we have concerns as to whether there is enough time for such an exchange to happen, Frank Trembulak, Geisinger's chief operating officer, said in a statement. At this point, we are awaiting the commonwealth's decision.