The end of this week brings a big deadline for the implementation of President Obama’s health care plan, most affectionately referred to as ObamaCare. By the close of this week, the states must decide whether they will build a health insurance exchange as required by law, or leave the task to the federal government. So far, 17 states have already signaled that they’ll leave things to the feds and many are wondering if the federal government can even manage such a task:

“These are systems that typically take two or three years to build,” says Kevin Walsh, managing director of insurance exchange services at Xerox. “The last time I looked at the calendar, that’s not what we’re working with.” [...]

“The reality is, states and the federal government are building something new,” says Pat Howard, who runs state health issues for consulting firm Deloitte. “There’s a rough blueprint in terms of federal regulations, but there’s still a number of decisions that need to happen to operationalize this.”

A health exchange’s first task is ensuring that those who are eligible for benefits know about them — right now, research suggests three-quarters have no idea. [...]

After people become aware of benefits, the health exchange faces its biggest challenge: Figuring out who is eligible for what. In many states those who earn less than 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Line are eligible for Medicaid — except if the state has already extended benefits to an even higher level, as 35 states have for children. 

“There may be different family members eligible for different programs,” says Sam Gibbs, vice president of sales at eHealthInsurance. “There needs to be a technology system that can support that activity, and look at multiple programs for multiple people.”

The Washington Post has more here, in case you need any more doubt that the federal government getting involved in health care is a nightmare.