US states will be given additional time to decide whether to put in place a key aspect of President Barack Obama's health care reform program, the administration's top health policy official said Thursday.
In a letter to governors of Louisiana and Virginia, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said that states now will be given until December 14 to decide whether to put in place their own "state-based exchange"—or online marketplaces—aimed at helping consumers and small businesses shop for healthcare coverage.
She made her announcement one day before the original November 16 deadline.
"While receiving a letter of intent now will help us assist states in finalizing their application, a state may submit both a letter of intent and an application to operate its own exchange by December 14," Sebelius wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.
If states miss next month's deadline, the federal government will step in and do it from them.
Texas Governor Rick Perry said in a letter to Sebelius on Thursday that his state would not be creating an exchange.
"It is clear there is no such thing as a state exchange," Perry wrote.
"Instead, this is a federally mandated exchange with rules dictated by Washington."
Signed by Obama in March 2010 and upheld by the Supreme Court in June, the Affordable Care Act law aims to provide health care coverage to an additional 30 million Americans. States are required to gradually implement it by 2014.
The law bars insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, allows parents to keep children on their medical insurance plans until age 26, and prohibits lifetime limits on coverage.
A number of Republican governors, hoping the law would be overturned, dragged their feet as they waited to see whether Obama would win re-election amid promises by his rival, Mitt Romney, to repeal the measure, dubbed "Obamacare" by some.
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