Federal health care website promises insurance marketplace ‘coming soon’

The website healthcare.gov is where residents will be able to enroll in a health insurance plan starting Oct. 1.

The federal government unveiled a redesign of healthcare.gov on Monday, announcing that the federal “health insurance marketplace is coming soon.”

The website features a short questionnaire that paints insurance options in broad strokes, even though open enrollment won’t start until Oct. 1.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act establishes health insurance marketplaces, also called exchanges, where individuals can pick a health insurance plan online. Some states are creating their own health insurance exchanges, but South Carolina is not.

In a November 2012 letter to Sec. Kathleen Sebelius of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Gov. Nikki Haley wrote that “a committee of informed stakeholders” decided that South Carolina should not set up its own health insurance exchange.

“The law fails to give South Carolina any flexibility or decision-making authority that would enable us to truly construct the program in a manner that would offer the most meaningful benefit to our citizens,” Haley wrote.

A records request filed by The Post and Courier in 2011 uncovered a series of emails between Haley and members of her administration that suggest she dictated the committee’s conclusion before it even met.

“The whole point of this commission should be to figure out how to opt out and how to avoid a federal takeover, NOT create a state exchange,” Haley wrote in a email on March 31, 2011.

At Haley’s urging, the Legislature voted to reject Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act as well, which would have qualified about 340,000 more low-income residents for free health insurance starting next year.

All residents here will be able to use the federal marketplace to enroll in a health insurance plan starting Oct. 1 for coverage that will begin Jan. 1 and some will qualify for financial subsidies to help pay for that coverage.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.