SACRAMENTO (KCBS) – California is getting a head start on implementing an important component of the federal health care reform law known as the Health Benefit Exchange.

Kim Belshe with the Health Benefit Exchange Board said that even though it is not required to be in place until 2014, there is no time to waste.

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“We’re the first state in the union to enact the legislation to create the Exchange. We’re the first state that is moving forward with the governing body,” said Belshe. “And moving forward with the critical implementation steps.”

KCBS’ Melissa Culross Reports:

The California Health Benefit Exchange aims at making it easier for consumers and small businesses to shop for and buy competitive health insurance starting in 2014.

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Belshe, who served as California Health and Human Services Secretary under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, said that even with the state’s fiscal problems, health care reform should not take a back seat.

“Our state economic crisis underscores how important it is that we have these kind of mechanisms in place that can provide access to more affordable, quality coverage for individuals and small businesses,” she said.

Federal law provides that the Exchange will help to determine whether an individual or family is eligible for a tax credit, select health plans that are offered to persons purchasing coverage through the Exchange, provide comparative information regarding the cost, quality and value of the health plans offered and serve as the only place where federal tax credits may be used for the purchase of health insurance.

Belshe said that the Health Benefit Exchange Board will engage in extensive outreach to educate Californians about the Exchange before it begins operating.

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