WASHINGTON – The Obama administration Thursday awarded 49 grants to states and the District of Columbia to plan for new health insurance exchanges designed to help Americans shop for health plans beginning in 2014.

These state-based exchanges, a key foundation of the new health-care law, are to become the central Internet-based marketplace for consumers who do not get health benefits at a work.

By 2019, 24 million Americans are expected to shop for coverage on these exchanges, choosing among health plans offering a variety of benefits that meet basic government standards. Starting in 2014, most Americans also will be required by law to get insurance, either through their jobs or on their own.

Maine will receive $1 million, to be administered by the Governor’s Office of Health Policy and Finance, according to a report Thursday by the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

Most states are just beginning to work on setting up their exchanges, which will likely require new Internet systems, new consumer assistance and new regulatory oversight.

Massachusetts and Utah already have exchanges, which they created before the federal health-care law passed in March.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday that the grants, each around $1 million, will help states begin designing these new systems and hiring needed staff.

Joel Ario, a former Pennsylvania insurance commissioner who is overseeing the federal effort, said the administration is also looking to state lawmakers to pass necessary legislation in 2011 to set up the exchanges. “That is a critical legislative year,” Ario said.

Only Minnesota and Alaska, both of which earlier turned down grants designed to bolster state oversight of insurance premiums, did not apply for an exchange grant.

A month ago, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican widely expected to run for president, ordered state officials not to apply for “discretionary” federal health-care money.

Alaska insurance division director Linda Hall said state officials did not seek the money because they oppose the new insurance mandate in the law.

“We are not going to create an instrument to implement something that is unconstitutional,” she said, noting that the state still may decide to create an exchange. Alaska and Minnesota are among a group of states suing to overturn the mandate.

If a state chooses not to set up an insurance exchange in 2014, the new law requires the federal government to step in and operate one.