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Cuomo orders setup of insurance exchange

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order Thursday to establish a statewide health insurance exchange intended to reduce coverage costs for individuals, small businesses and local governments.

The New York Health Benefit Exchange, a federally authorized and financed marketplace for buyers, is also aimed at including more than a million New Yorkers now without coverage.

Part of the Obama administration's health care plan, the exchanges have been a major campaign target for Republicans in the presidential race.

The New York Senate's Republican majority didn't include a health exchange in its budget proposal, saying more study was required. Cuomo and the Assembly Democrats favored the plan to create a kind of one-stop supermarket for health care to insure more Americans, but it was left out of the state budget.

"The sky-high cost of insurance in New York is driving businesses out of the state and preventing lower income New Yorkers from being able to afford needed coverage," Cuomo said. "Establishing the health exchange will bring true competition into the health care marketplace, driving costs down across the state."

According to the order, individuals and small businesses purchasing coverage through the exchange can tap up to $2.6 billion in federal tax credits and subsidies. Its deadline to start operating is Jan. 1, 2014. The state is required to show by next January that it will be ready to begin taking applications by the following October.

The executive order allows for regional advisory committees to be involved in the exchange's establishment and operation.

The panels would include consumer advocates, small business representatives, health care providers, agents, brokers, insurers and labor organizations, as well as public comment.

AARP said the exchange has the potential to help the 50-to-64-year-old population in New York, including about 337,000 who are uninsured.

Heather Briccetti, president of the Business Council of New York State, said health care remains their top cost concern and the exchange will let New York have greater control over how the federal changes affect people here.

Buffalo-based HealthNow, parent of BlueCross BlueShield, and Amherst-based Independent Health both issued statements in support of the action.

"The governor's executive order, issued today, will allow for the extensive planning required to continue, and for New York to qualify for continued federal funding of this important element of reform," said Don Ingalls, vice president of state and federal relations at HealthNow New York.

Roberta Rifkin, vice president of government affairs at Independent Health, said the exchange "will provide New Yorkers the opportunity for consumer choice, quality health care coverage and affordability through tax credits and subsidies to the uninsured and small businesses."

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