LINCOLN — A panel of Nebraskans charged with offering oversight and advice about the new health insurance exchange kicked off its work Wednesday.

The Nebraska Exchange Stakeholder Commission met for the first time since lawmakers created it this spring.

The 11-member group is intended to give Nebraskans a voice in how state and federal officials set up and operate the insurance exchange for the state under the new federal health care law.

Among its members are consumer representatives, small-business owners, a farmer and taxpayer advocate, a health insurance agent, a hospital administrator, a doctor and an insurance company representative.

State Insurance Director Bruce Ramge and Medicaid Director Vivianne Chaumont are nonvoting members.

Most of the meeting was spent reviewing what the federal law requires and the status of Nebraska's exchange.

But Martin Swanson, assistant state insurance director, said the state is working with federal officials on the exchange and will continue regulating insurance plans under the exchange.

Swanson said the State Insurance Department has been getting “more calls, more inquiries” as the first enrollment period gets closer.

The online insurance exchanges, also called insurance marketplaces, are the centerpiece of the federal health care overhaul.

They are to be one-stop shops where people can compare and buy private health insurance plans, get federal subsidies to help pay premiums or enroll in Medicaid if eligible.

Small businesses also will be able to use the exchanges to buy employee coverage plans.

An estimated 50,000 Nebraskans are expected to get coverage through the exchange in its first year.

People can start buying plans Oct. 1. Plans purchased this year will take effect Jan. 1.

Swanson said state officials have been reviewing the four insurance carriers that have said they intend to offer plans through the Nebraska exchange.

The hope is to finish the review and make a recommendation about certification by Aug. 31.

The four are Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, Coventry Health Care, CoOportunity Health and Health Alliance Midwest.

He said insurance officials also plan to hold meetings around the state next month to answer questions about the new federal law and the exchanges.

Nebraska's Medicaid program, meanwhile, is gearing up for an expected influx of enrollees, said Ruth Vineyard, a state Medicaid administrator.

The state did not expand its program to cover more low-income adults, as the Affordable Care Act proposed, but state officials expect that the new law will encourage more people to enroll for Medicaid coverage.

The law requires several changes, including revising eligibility standards and modifying the Medicaid computer system, Vineyard said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled CoOportunity Health.

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