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October 21, 2014

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Head of state insurance exchange expects challenge reducing number of uninsured

CARSON CITY — One in five Nevadans doesn’t have health insurance, one of the highest rates in the nation.

Nevada is just starting to comply with President Barack Obama’s health care plan that is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jon Hager, who has been chief financial officer for the state Public Employees Benefit Program for more than five years, has been chosen executive director of the new Silver State Health Insurance Exchange.

There are an estimated 445,000 Nevadans between 18 and 64, or 27 percent of that population, who are without health coverage. That compares with 20 percent nationally, Hager said.

For those younger than 18, the number without insurance is 121,000, or 17 percent, compared to the national average of 8.5 percent.

It’s going to be a challenge improving those statistics, said Hager, who doesn’t step into his new job until Jan. 23. He doesn’t have office space or computers yet. Mike Willden, director of the state Department of Health and Human Resources, has been filling in the top position since the insurance exchange was created by the 2011 Legislature.

“We’re going to have to come up with a method to provide insurance to this population,” Hager said.

The exchange will give individuals and small businesses a chance to compare rates and benefits side by side.

Hager said he still has a lot to learn, including how the exchange will be self-supporting starting in 2015. There has been a suggestion that a fee be tacked onto the premiums of insurance purchased through the exchange.

Hager was selected last week by a seven-member board of the Health Insurance Exchange.

Obama signed the new health care law in 2010 and it is rolling out over four years. It provides tax breaks for small business that have fewer than 25 workers and provide health coverage, allows those with pre-existing conditions to gain coverage, permits children up to 26 years old stay on their parents’ insurance, and provides for discounts on drugs.

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