Mississippi can try for federal-state health exchange, HHS says

After blocking Mississippi's proposal for a state-run health insurance exchange because of divisions among state leaders on the plan, federal officials said Friday that they're encouraging the state to seek approval for a partnership -- an exchange jointly run by the state and federal governments.

"The work your Insurance Department has done thus far to ensure that Mississippi maintains broad authority over its health insurance market makes Mississippi an excellent candidate for a State Partnership Exchange," Gary Cohen of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services wrote to Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney.

However, Chaney said he doesn't want to do a partnership because he believes the state would simply be in charge of fulfilling federal mandates without influencing how the exchange is run.

"The feds call the shots and we do all the work," Chaney told The Associated Press. "I'm not going to do that."

Chaney, a Republican, sought HHS approval of the state-run exchange in November even though Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said he wanted nothing to do with the federal health care overhaul that President Barack Obama signed in 2010. Chaney argued that the state, not the federal government, should run an exchange that's now required by law.

An exchange is an online marketplace where people can buy health insurance. Under the health care law, each state must have an exchange by 2014. The exchanges can be run by each state, the federal government or as a partnership.

Chaney held a news conference Thursday to announce that HHnds of uninsured Mississippians.

"If enough states exercise their clear and completely legal options to resist its implementation -- including declining to establish exchanges and rejecting the Medicaid expansion -- Congress will be forced to reopen the law, and a Republican-controlled House will be in a stronger position than when the law was first rammed through," Bryant said in a statement.