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Alaskans will rely on federal health insurance exchange model

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

If there was any confusion lingering from July about whether Alaska would or would not create a health care exchange, here's some clarity: Alaska will not -- repeat, will not -- be managing the marketplace its citizens will soon use to purchase their own health insurance.

Gov. Sean Parnell announced last summer that his administration had decided not to create an exchange, and his spokesperson confirmed that policy position Thursday as a federal deadline looms, Friday, for states to submit plans for their health insurance markets.

Exchanges are just one piece of the health care reform puzzle. Because Alaska's health department opted not to develop an exchange, Alaskans will have to rely on a health insurance exchange designed by the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C.  Think of Expedia or Esurance -- online marketplaces to shop and compare for a product, in this case, health insurance -- and you'll have a basic idea of what the exchange is. Read more.

Health insurance exchanges are required under the health care reform law, passed by Congress in 2010 and upheld in June by the U.S. Supreme Court as the "law of the land" over objections by 26 states, including Alaska, which had sued to reject implementing the law.

Alaskans will qualify for benefits of the massive legislation regardless of the state's objections, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department who spoke with Alaska Dispatch in the wake of the court ruling. But that means Alaskans will also face penalties for not purchasing health insurance as the law mandates. More: Affordable Care Act (PDF)

The real question on the health news beat is whether Parnell will opt out of expanding Medicaid as its envisioned under the health reform legislation. That option was opened up to states under the Supreme Court ruling. The expansion would bring thousands of Alaskans into the health-care system, giving them access to physicians and getting them out of emergency room primary care.

Read much more about Medicaid expansion's benefits.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated Nov. 16 to clarify that a spokesperson for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department -- not the Alaska DHSS -- said Alaskans would qualify for Affordable Care Act benefits regardless of state objections.