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Montgomery healthcare groups hold mixed views on upcoming exchanges

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

Healthcare groups in Montgomery have mixed views regarding the upcoming healthcare exchange that will go online October 1 in accordance with the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

"We probably have as many questions as anybody," said Danne Howard with the Alabama Hospital Association.

Howard said her group knows very little about what plans will look like on the new online marketplace.

"All we know is that Humana, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and United Healthcare have applied and will have plans. We don't know the costs, or anything about the plans" Howard added.

The exchange, also referred to as a marketplace, will be entirely facilitated by the federal government. Alabama had the option to establish its own exchange that would have been managed on the state level, but Gov. Robert Bentley has opposed all aspects of the federal healthcare law.

About half of the states will have their own state-level exchanges, while the other half will have exchanges set up entirely by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Users will have the opportunity to shop for and compare health insurance plans on the online marketplace. The plans will be grouped based on the features of each plan and cost.

"We're optimistic about the exchange" said Jim Carnes with Alabama Arise, a consumer advocacy group which has been in favor of the major provisions of the federal healthcare law.

"Once everyone sees through all of the smoke and mirrors, we think they are going to work," Carnes said. "I think we'll get good sign up and word of mouth will trump all of the negative information out there."

Carnes added that he thinks the right-leaning opponents of the law are "panicking right now" because a key part of the law is about to go into effect.

Alabama's governor has also opposed Medicaid expansion which is one of the cornerstones of the federal healthcare law. Under expansion, more than 300,000 Alabamians would receive healthcare coverage who were previously uninsured.

The state would have some administrative costs in the first few years predicted at not more than $50 million for the expansion but those costs would eventually go up to an estimated $700 million by the year 2020, when the federal government's share decreases to 90%.

The deadline to decide on expanding Medicaid to earn the maximum of federal funds is December 31.

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