Unlike Republican lawmakers, who wanted the state to challenge the federal health reform law in court, Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell seems to be taking advantage of every opportunity it may provide the state.

Earlier this year Connecticut became the first state in the nation to permanently add 45,000 low-income adults to the federal government’s Medicaid program under the new law, also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

And just last week Rell applied for a close to $1 million federal grant to study the health insurance marketplace and other components that may be part of the health insurance exchanges expected to start in 2014 under the federal health reform bill.

“These exchanges will only reach their potential if there is maximum competition, ample choice and participation,” Rell said Monday in a press release. “In order to develop the best public policy on preparing Connecticut for the exchange must have the best data. These funds will allows us to assess market research and other information that help guide our decisions.”

Should Connecticut receive the grant, the outcome of the year-long study will provide the state with market research and data analysis to better determine if a statewide, “state-operated” exchange is a viable option, or whether the markets for individual and small groups should be combined.

Meanwhile, the 11-member SustiNet Health Partnership board, headed by state Comptroller Nancy Wyman and State Healthcare Advocate Kevin Lembo is exploring what a “public option,” not included in the federal legislation, would look like in Connecticut. It has been studying the issue since July 2009 and is expected to release its report to the new governor and General Assembly in January.

The SustiNet Health Partnership board is currently looking for a consultant to formulate a model benefit package for the public option type plan that it hopes the state will be able to offer as part of the health insurance exchange.

The SustiNet Health Partnership board was created in 2009 after the legislature overrode Rell’s veto of the proposal. Immediately following her veto Rell created her own commission to study the issue. Just last month Rell tapped Cristine Vogel, deputy commissioner of the Office of Health Care Access, to head up the implementation of the sweeping federal health reform law.

The state will have until June 2013 to set up the exchanges. Whether it will be a state agency, nonprofit, or quasi-public entity who manages the exchanges will be left up to the next legislature and governor to decide.