This afternoon, the Governor’s Office sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) chief, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, regarding the Affordable Care Act in West Virginia. In the letter dated July 15, Governor Tomblin requests “prompt answers to several questions concerning implementation of the .” (See the letter here)
The majority of the questions relate to either timeliness and a concern of the fast approaching October 1st (the date the Marketplace and open enrollments are scheduled to go live) or additional guidance for specific rules. West Virginia is far from unique in feeling the pressure of the impending deadlines as many states are scrambling to ensure their exchanges are fully functional on time, while some are even scrapping or delaying parts of their initial plans.
There have also been concerns expressed from many state leaders about the lack of detailed information and final guidance regarding certain aspects of the law. Of course, the fact that others are in the same boat is little consolation for state leadership here. HHS has a lot of work to do in a very short time, however they continue to state that it will be ready to go on schedule. Certainly though they are also feeling the time crunch as evidenced by the announcement earlier this month that they would be delaying the large employer mandate by one year among other delays.
One question that I didn’t quite follow in the governor’s letter was number six. Information about who may qualify for the Marketplace is readily available on www.healthcare.gov while specific information about premiums and subsidies in West Virginia will be dependent on the plans that are offered in our Marketplace Exchange. These rates have yet to be released by the Offices of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC), although they likely will be soon. Regardless, final eligibility determination won’t be available until the open enrollment period which doesn’t begin until October 1st anyhow.
Undoubtedly, there is a lot of work to be done at both the state and federal level in the next few months and Governor Tomblin raises some very pertinent questions here. HHS needs to communicate better with states and issue final guidance very soon if it wants states to be ready by October 1st. The OIC also has its hands full and will need to find someone to step in immediately and fill the extra big shoes left by the departure this month of Jeremiah Samples, who is leaving to be the Assistant Secretary at DHHR.
It will be difficult, but let’s hope West Virginia is up to the challenge of helping extend health insurance to over 170,000 additional state residents.