SPRINGFIELD  — Illinois is happy to follow the federal government as it leads the state into the health-care marketplace.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD  — Illinois is happy to follow the federal government as it leads the state into the health-care marketplace.

After all, Illinois may not want the long-term responsibility and has done little of the short-term work.

Wednesday, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn joined Health and Human Services Secretary Katherine Sibelius in Chicago for a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially approve Illinois’ entrance into the Affordable Care Act.

Illinois is partnering with the federal government to run the marketplace, in part because Illinois lawmakers spent two years haggling over how — and even whether — the state should run its own insurance marketplace.

Mike Claffey, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services, said Illinois will follow the feds, for now.

“The state-federal partnership will be up and running Oct. 1. Enrollment for coverage begins Jan. 1,” Claffey said. “This partnership is in place for the first year of operations.”

After that, Illinois may try to take run the marketplace on its own, though just getting through the first year will require a lot of work.

HHS has set six conditions that Illinois must meet before a federal health care marketplace can open in October.

Illinois, for example, must define how it will work with the federal government in building the marketplace, modernize the state’s computer network to handle the thousands of people expected to buy insurance through the marketplace and prove to the federal government the state can handle the task.

“We recognize Illinois is working under intense timelines,” Sibelius said in her letter to Illinois. She also promised to help the state meet its deadlines.

For 2014, Claffey said, Illinois only needs to select insurance carriers; the federal government will create and run the marketplace website.

That’s telling, according to Ben Domenech, a research fellow at the Chicago-based Heartland Institute.

“It’s worth noting that even the president’s home state isn’t implementing a state exchange under Obamacare,” Domenech said. “(That’s) an implicit acknowledgment of the heavy lift involved in making these new bureaucratic-run entities work.”

But Illinois is only leaning on Washington in the short-term, said state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago.

“The intent that I’ve heard the governor express is that he’d like us to pass legislation so we’d have a state-run (marketplace) in 2015,” Steans said.

That won’t be easy. To create the state-run marketplace, Steans must shepherd at least two sweeping laws through the General Assembly this spring.

State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, would rather leave the responsibility, and the potential costs and problems, in Washington.

“This is a huge, massive power grab on the federal government’s part,” Brady said. “We all have great concerns about the implementation of this.”

It will probably be expensive.

Claffey did not have specific costs in regard to implementing a partnership, much less what Illinois will have to pay to run its own health-care marketplace.

But the Kaiser Foundation reports Illinois has already received $39 million to start work on its exchange, though more will be needed.

As many as 500,000 people in Illinois could try to buy insurance through the health-care exchange. All told, Illinois could see as many as one million people find coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

You can contact repoorter Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org

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