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Eye On Boise

Mon., Aug. 22, 2011, 8:53 a.m.

HW chief: 31% of Idahoans age 18-34 lack health insurance, exchange could help

In Idaho in 2010, 31 percent of people age 18 to 34 had no health insurance, state Department of Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong told lawmakers this morning. Overall 17 percent of Idahoans lack insurance, but years of rising costs have pushed the healthiest population - the 18-to-34-year-olds - to drop insurance. The number now, he said, is "strikingly high." That means, Armstrong said, "An individual without insurance then has limited access to health care services, which results in a diminished quality of life." Plus, as insurance increasingly covers only the sickest people, costs rise. "We all know the current system is unsustainable," he told the Idaho Legislature's Health Care Task Force.

The national health care reform legislation includes an array of changes, including 41 programs, 10 of which became law in 2010 and were implemented, and another eight of which are taking effect in 2011. Among those that took effect in 2010: Raising the age limit for dependents to be covered on their parents' health insurances, coverage of pre-existing conditions for children, regulation of lifetime benefit limits and coverage of preventive services. "Many of you are already seeing or have taken advantage of some of those changes," Armstrong said, noting that he has, as the parent of a 26-year-old.

The health insurance exchange idea, Armstrong said, "As the governor mentioned, is not a new idea. It was first a product of the Reagan Administration. It's been around." The idea, he said is "to allow businesses to pool together, like large self-insurance customers have done for years, because from a risk standpoint, the more people that are insured the better the risk and the more stable the rates will be. ... You actually are able to spread the fixed costs over more citizens in Idaho."

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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