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State gets conditional OK for health insurance marketplace

Governor PQuinn U.S. Health Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (right) announced thIllinois has been conditionally approved operate State Partnership Marketplace

Governor Pat Quinn and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (on right) announced that Illinois has been conditionally approved to operate a State Partnership Marketplace, which will be ready for open enrollment in October of 2013. Photographed on Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at the Erie Health Center in Chicago. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: March 15, 2013 1:23PM

Illinois is one step closer to having a health insurance marketplace where uninsured or under-insured state residents will be able to shop for insurance beginning Oct. 1 — a key part to the Affordable Care Act.

At a West Side clinic beside Gov. Pat Quinn, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that Illinois had received a conditional approval, allowing the state to move forward on its plan to create an online marketplace.

Illinois became the third state to receive approval, joining Arkansas and Delaware.

The marketplace is a key part of the Affordable Care Act that is supposed to make it easier to sign up for affordable health insurance options for people whose income is between 133 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level — $15,282 to $45,960 per individual. Under the 2010 health care law, commonly called Obamacare, those people are supposed to receive subsidies on a sliding scale if they obtain coverage through the marketplace.

Illinois estimates that 500,000 people will get insurance in its first year of operation, and up to 1 million will be covered by 2016.

“Beginning in October, many of those folks will finally be able to sign up for coverage they need and deserve, thanks to this new marketplace strategy,” Sebelius said at Erie Family Health Center on the West Side. “The market will make finding the right health insurance plan less complicated and more affordable than ever before.”

But Sebelius also acknowledged that much more work remains to be done under tight deadlines in Illinois.

The approval is based on six conditions, which include a memorandum of understanding with the federal government for how the state will monitor and approve health plans sold on the exchange by March 1 and a separate memorandum of understanding for how the state will run consumer outreach activities by April 1.

What also remains to be done is Quinn’s goal of getting the Illinois General Assembly’s approval for a state-based exchange to offer coverage in 2015. That way the state would have more authority over how the exchange would be run.

Quinn said Wednesday that a state-based exchange remains his goal, and that he has support from House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton.

“The speaker of the House and the president of the Senate have made it very clear to me that they support the legislation,” Quinn said. “I think we have good majorities and people want to do the right thing.”

It is not yet known what the range of costs could be for insurance provided through the marketplace.

Still, Celeste Aida Castillo, 57, of Elmwood Park, expects that the marketplace will make it possible for her to finally buy health insurance. Castillo, a documented immigrant from Guatemala, is a nanny.

“I have been in this country 37 years. All of those years have been without insurance,” Castillo said. “Today, I can so happily say that is no longer going to be just a dream, to have affordable insurance.”

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