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Idaho’s insurance exchange to start up with simple, no-frills model

A tight deadline to get Idaho's health insurance exchange running means its designers are aiming for a streamlined, straightforward web site to greet consumers when they log in for the first time come Oct. 1, the date enrollment begins as part of President Barack Obama's plan to make sure most Americans have insurance coverage, the Associated Press reports. Amy Dowd, the exchange's director, said the emphasis will be on creating a functional web site to allow individuals and small businesses to shop for insurance policies online with a minimum of confusion.

In a recent editorial, Bloomberg View  lauded Idaho Gov. Butch Otter for the state's approach, writing, “In Idaho, Butch Otter is one of just a handful of Republican governors to set up insurance exchanges on their own or in partnership with Washington. Its design will reflect Idaho’s small-government philosophy — providing a minimalist, streamlined approach, potentially offering a stark contrast with the bells-and-whistles exchanges envisioned by neighboring Oregon and nearby California. The state expects two benefits. Its exchange is more likely to be up and running on time, and its low overhead costs will be passed on to insurers in the form of lower assessment fees. That, in turn, may lead to lower premiums for people buying insurance.Governors of both parties should thank Otter and his state’s Republican legislators. If Idaho’s no-frills exchange succeeds in producing lower costs and fewer glitches, it could offer a new model for other states to follow.”

AP reporter John Miller reports that Idaho's exchange doesn't aspire to a “Cadillac-style” offering, instead shooting for a dependable, utilitarian vehicle that's clean, clear and concise for users from the day it goes live in just 2 ½ months. Click below for Miller's full report.

“We view the site as an ever-evolving destination where we can add additional information as needed,” Dowd said.


Idaho exchange director: Expect streamlined portal
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A tight deadline to get Idaho's health insurance exchange running means its designers are aiming for a streamlined, straightforward web site to greet consumers when they log in for the first time come Oct. 1, the date enrollment begins as part of President Barack Obama's plan to make sure most Americans have insurance coverage.

Amy Dowd, the exchange's director, said last week that the emphasis will be on creating a functional web site to allow individuals and small businesses to shop for insurance policies online with a minimum of confusion.

With the exchange breathed into life in the final days of the 2013 Legislature, the Idaho exchange's aspirations aren't to be a “Cadillac-style” offering, rather a dependable, utilitarian vehicle that's clean, clear and concise for users from the day it goes live in just 2 ½ months.

“We view the site as an ever-evolving destination where we can add additional information as needed,” Dowd said.

Just last week, the Idaho exchange agreed to spend $200,000 through Aug. 16 for a Boise-based public relations company, Gallatin Public Affairs, to develop an outreach campaign to help educate the roughly 290,000 residents who don't have insurance.

Estimates are that 190,000 people will be eligible to purchase coverage via the exchange, though it's unclear how many will actually use the system.

The ultimate cost of marketing the exchange is also unclear. Dowd said a portion of the first $20.3 million federal grant to build Idaho's exchange will be directed toward getting the word out, but that budget would be set by September.

Across the nation, states like Idaho that have chosen a state-based exchange — rather than a model designed and run by the federal government — are going through a similar process: Crafting state-tailored online portals for those without insurance to shop for a policy that's right for them.

Legions of government and private technology experts are working to mesh government and private computer systems that, among other things, will be tasked with helping make key decisions such as whether insurance seekers qualify for federal subsidies or are eligible for Medicaid, depending on income.

In Idaho, the exchange plans to offer numerous ways for people to complete the process, including the web site and customer support centers that will handle phone calls, email and the standard post, Dowd said.

Additionally, insurance agents and brokers, along with exchange trained in-person assisters — as well as referrals from the Department of Insurance or Department of Health and Welfare — will be part of the process, too, she said.

Still, the sheer technological complexity of the undertaking — and limited time left to complete it — prompted the federal Government Accountability Office in June to raise concerns about whether exchanges will be ready in 10 weeks to take applications.

Dowd is optimistic about Idaho's prospects.

“We do not have concerns about coordination between the exchange and health insurance plans or Medicaid,” she said. “The Exchange, Department of Insurance, Department of Health and Welfare, agents, brokers and carriers are all working together to ensure” success.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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