By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG – There is $33 million with Pennsylvania's name on it in a bank account deep within the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
For now, it's just collecting dust – or whatever else collects inside an unopened electronic account.
Pennsylvania got $33.8 million from the federal government to set-up a state-level health insurance exchange as part of the federal Affordable Care Act. Similar grants were given to all the states as part of the federal health care law.
But Pennsylvania, like 26 other states, decided not to set up an exchange. Instead, the federal government will design and implement the exchange system, which is set to come online next year.
In theory, the exchanges will work in the same way as travel sites like Expedia or Travelocity – consumers will be able to shop around for the best deal on health insurance based on their needs.
In December, when Gov. Tom Corbett announced that the state would not set up the exchanges, the state was unsure what they could do with the grant.
Nine months later, not much has changed. The feds have not pulled the money, but Pennsylvania isn't allowed to have it either.
"Technically speaking, it never was ours – the money sits in an account at the federal level for us to draw down from if/when used," wrote Melissa Fox, a spokeswoman for the Department of Insurance, in an email to PA Independent this week.
The department is still trying to find a way to use the money, but it has to get permission from the federal government first. Until then, those tax dollars will keep sitting in the account.
Fox said her department is working with the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which is overseeing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, to find a way to "re-budget" that $33 million.
The goal is to use the money as part of a consumer outreach effort to educate Pennsylvanians about the changes they will see with their health insurance in coming years. It could possibly be used to inform residents of the state of the new exchange, even though the exchange is being run at the federal level.
But Fox says there are strict rules about how the money can be used, and it's too soon to know how much of that $33 million the state will be allowed to re-purpose it for other reasons.
Some health centers in Pennsylvania are getting a combined $2.7 million to help advertise the Affordable Care Act and inform residents about the specifics of the law.