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HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania would take control of its Affordable Care Act health exchange under a plan that passed the state House by a 198-1 vote on Tuesday.

The plan was endorsed by Republican and Democrat leaders in the chamber and lauded by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf

A spokeswoman for Senate Republican leaders was non-committal about how quickly that chamber will take up the bill.

"We look forward to reviewing the bill. It will be sent to the appropriate committee for review when we receive it," said Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County.

State officials have estimated that operating the exchange would cost $50 million less than what the federal government charges.

The federal government collects a 3.5 percent fee on premiums paid by people who get insurance through the exchange, according to the state Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman in testimony to the House insurance commission in May. That amounts to about $88 million a year, she said. State officials estimate they can do the same job for $30-$35 million, Altman said.

Antoinette Kraus, director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, said that the amount the state is sending to Washington exceeds the federal government’s cost to run Pennsylvania’s exchange, meaning the state is now subsidizing the cost of operating other states’ exchanges.

The savings can be used to fund a program to help lower costs to consumers who get insurance through the exchange, said House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County.

Cutler estimated that the proposal would decrease insurance premiums for coverage in the premium by 5-10 percent. Without making the change, the experts are projecting that the insurance premiums in the state’s Affordable Care Act exchange plans will increase 7 percent next year, he said.

“We have the opportunity to help 400,000 people struggling to afford good health insurance for themselves and their families,” said House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny County.

Wolf “strongly supports this bipartisan effort to reduce health care premiums in Pennsylvania,” said J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for the governor.

Twelve other states – including Delaware, Maryland and New York – have state-run exchanges, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

New Jersey is one of four states -- the others are Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon -- moving to set up state-run exchanges, Altman said. 

Advocates for health care access also welcomed the proposal.

Antoinette Kraus, director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, call the proposal “a smart move for the Commonwealth; it won't increase costs for Pennsylvania taxpayers but will result in lower premiums for Pennsylvania families, small business owners, and individuals who purchase their health insurance through the marketplace.”

CNHI PA State Reporter

CNHI State Reporter John Finnerty covers the Pennsylvania Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com.

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