Congressional Research Service | Federal Funding for Health Insurance Exchanges


Pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, P.L. 111-148, as amended), a health insurance exchange has been established in each state and the District of Columbia (DC).

Exchanges are marketplaces where individuals and small businesses can “shop” for health insurance coverage. The ACA provides that states may establish their own state-based exchanges (SBEs), and as of January 2014, 14 states and DC have done so. It also directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish exchanges in states that do not establish SBEs, and 36 states have federally-facilitated exchanges (FFE) in 2014. In some states that have FFEs, the states carry out certain functions of the exchange; in other states, the exchange is wholly operated and administered by HHS.

The ACA provided an indefinite appropriation for HHS grants to states to support the planning and establishment of exchanges. For each fiscal year, the HHS Secretary is to determine the total amount that will be made available to each state for exchange grants. No grant may be awarded after January 1, 2015.

There are three different types of exchange grants. First, planning grants were awarded to 49 states and DC. These grants of about $1 million each were intended to provide resources to states to help them plan their health insurance exchanges. Second, there have been multiple rounds of exchange establishment grants. There are two levels of exchange establishment grants: level one establishment grants are awarded to states that have made some progress using their planning funds, and level two establishment grants are designed to provide funding to states that are farther along in the establishment of an exchange. Finally, HHS awarded seven early innovator grants to states (including one award to a consortium of New England states) to support the design and implementation of the information technology systems needed to operate the exchanges. To date, HHS has awarded a total of more than $4.8 billion to states and DC in planning, establishment, and early innovator grants.

Under the ACA, each exchange is expected to be self-sustaining beginning January 1, 2015. The law authorizes exchanges to generate funding to sustain their operations, including by assessing fees on participating health insurance issuers. To raise funds for each of the FFEs, beginning in 2014, HHS is assessing a monthly fee on each health insurance issuer that offers plans through an FFE.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is incurring significant administrative costs to support FFE operations. According to CMS, a total of $456 million was used to support exchange operations over the period FY2010-FY2012. In FY2013, CMS spent $1,545 million on exchange operations and estimates that it will spend $1,390 million in FY2014. The agency is relying on a mix of annual discretionary appropriations and funding from other sources for these expenditures. Those sources include expired discretionary funds from the Nonrecurring Expenses Fund, mandatory funding from the Health Insurance Reform Implementation Fund and the Prevention and Public Health Fund, and FFE user fees. CMS has budgeted $1.8 billion for exchange operations in FY2015. Most of that funding is projected to come from FFE user fees.

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