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SALT LAKE CITY • The federal government is telling Utah officials it wants to work with them to certify the state's existing health insurance exchange.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius tells Utah Gov. Gary Herbert that her office is eager to help Utah create an exchange that offers plans for businesses and individuals.

Analysts say significant changes would be needed for Utah's exchange to comply with the federal law. That's because it does not offer health insurance to individuals and is not set up to distribute federal tax credits aimed at low income people who are uninsured

Exchanges are online health insurance marketplaces pioneered in Utah and Massachusetts. Utah's exchange was launched on a limited basis in 2009 and fully implemented two years later.

Utah officials say they plan to expand the exchange to include plans for individuals.

Sebelius' letter is in response to Herbert's Tuesday letter asking President Barack Obama to approve Utah's exchange and declare that it meets the requirements of the federal health overhaul.

She thanks Herbert for his letter and says her staff is happy to help Utah. But, she also says Herbert's questions have been addressed already in proposed rules sent out in November and a frequently asked questions document sent earlier this week.

She says both parties share the same goal of providing health care choices to residents. She said the federal government is "pleased that you plan to include individuals and larger businesses in your exchange in the near future.

"We look forward to working with you toward certifying the Utah exchange, ensuring that consumers and small businesses have access to affordable, high-quality coverage," Sebelius says.

Friday is the deadline for states to decide if they will run their own exchanges or let the federal government do it for them.

Gov. Herbert's office declined to comment on the letter, saying his response will come in his decision Friday. —

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