SPRINGFIELD -- llinois has received a $32.8 million federal grant to help establish a statewide health insurance exchange, but it’s unclear how the money will be used.

SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois has received a $32.8 million federal grant to help establish a statewide health insurance exchange, but it’s unclear how the money will be used.


The grant, announced this week, is in addition to $6 million in grants the state previously received for the exchange.


The exchange is a type of marketplace — with online and in-person components — that would help individuals and small businesses buy health insurance, beginning in 2014. The exchange also would dole out federal subsidies to keep premiums and other out-of-pocket costs affordable.


State-level exchanges are a key part of the federal Affordable Care Act, the health-care reform law signed by President Barack Obama in 2010.


Officials from Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration have said the state could qualify for more than $90 million in federal startup funds for Illinois’ exchange.


However, Quinn aides Kimberly Parker and Brie Callahan have refused to answer questions on the matter.


“Illinois is pleased to receive this $32.8 million grant to continue laying the groundwork for Illinois’ health-care exchange,” Parker said Thursday in an email. “States around the nation are benefiting from these federal dollars, and Illinois’ Department of Insurance will be using these funds to create and expand a number of key technical components, as well as work on design and implementation preparations.”


Callahan last week refused to say whether Quinn is preparing to issue an executive order to set up the basic parts of an exchange after the General Assembly’s apparent failure to do so.


Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, who has been trying to write legislation to create an exchange told The State Journal-Register last week he has given up trying to pass a bill in the spring session to set up a funding method and board of directors for the exchange.


Mautino cited the absence of any Republican support for such legislation in the Illinois House and Senate and not enough support from Democrats despite their control of both chambers.


It’s unclear whether legislation or an executive order — or neither — is needed for the Quinn administration to spend the $32.8 million.


Quinn aides have said in the past that legislation is needed to ensure that the state qualifies for all of the potential startup funds.


It’s also unclear whether the state will have to return any of the federal money if the U.S. Supreme Court, which is considering challenges to the ACA, strikes down all or part of the law this summer.


Asked about the issue, Keith Maley, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said only: “We are confident that the law is constitutional and continue to devote energy into ensuring that the benefits of the law are applied to people in Illinois and across the country.”


Dean Olsen can be reached at (217) 788-1543.