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Posts tagged: ACA

Two lawmakers on exchange board want no-bid contract with board member voided

Two state lawmakers who serve on the Idaho health insurance exchange board are calling for voiding the no-bid contract awarded last week to board member Frank Chan, who then resigned from the board, the AP reports. The contract called for Chan to be paid $180 an hour, up to $375,000, to oversee the exchange's technology vendors; he formerly headed the board's technology committee. Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, told the AP, “When somebody is going behind everyone's back, negotiating a contract for themselves at $180 an hour when they've got current contracts with the state at $95, I don't think that's even ethical. It's not in the interest of the citizens of Idaho and it's a violation of the fiduciary obligation of a member of the board.” Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, said, “Things have been out of control because we were in a hurry. It's time to have a longer thought process, to get things back in line.” The board meets this morning at 11.

Exchange board to meet Tuesday to discuss procurement, after flap over no-bid contract with board member

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's insurance exchange board meets Tuesday to discuss how it buys services after state lawmakers criticized a $375,000 no-bid contract awarded to one of its members. The Your Health Idaho exchange board meets at 11 a.m. to discuss its procurement process. On Friday, House Speaker Scott Bedke called it “indefensible” for exchange director Amy Dowd to give board member Frank Chan a big technology contract without advertising it publicly or letting others bid. Chan quit the board Wednesday after getting the contract. Though Dowd insists she has the authority to award contracts like the one with Chan, the exchange is operating under only a “draft” procurement policy that doesn't specify when bidding must be competitive. The board said in May it would finalize that policy. That's so far not happened.

House speaker calls no-bid contract with exchange board member ‘indefensible’

Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke said Friday that it was “indefensible” for the state's health insurance exchange to award a no-bid contract worth up to $375,000 to one of its own board members, the AP reports, who then resigned from the board. Bedke, R-Oakley, told the Associated Press, “It was wrong. … I'm very troubled by what has happened. I understand the board is going to revisit this issue, and I'm willing at this point to let the board do its job. The public has a right to have confidence in all governmental processes, including this one.”

Board member Frank Chan resigned from the board Wednesday, when the deal to give him a $180 per hour contract to oversee a technology project was announced; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Health care reform opponent has 10 kids on Medicaid

A tea party legislative candidate from Canyon County has become the target of national online derision, the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey reports, after news surfaced that while he opposes Obamacare and will pay a penalty rather than participate, he has 10 kids on Medicaid, the government-funded health care program for the poor and disabled. “I attracted all the attention of all the people who hate Republicans and the tea party,” Greg Collett, a 41-year-old freelance software developer and University of Idaho alum, told Popkey. “I've also attracted the attention of a lot of people in the liberty movement that don't want to see anybody on welfare.” Things got so bad, Collett said, he had to clean up his Facebook account and remove contact information from his campaign website.

 

The two-time GOP legislative candidate, who’s planning to run again, made the news because he was one of 1,503 people who answered a Kaiser/NBC poll in September about attitudes about the Affordable Care Act, and he told the pollsters he'd be willing to talk to a reporter. He ended up as the first person quoted in an Oct. 4 NBC story, “Health care holdouts: uninsured but resisting.” It went viral.

 

“I'm OK taking whatever I can from the government that's available to me,” Collett told Popkey. “I'm not going to lie and scam the system, but I'm OK with redirecting that money away from morally reprehensible things and direct it towards me.” Popkey’s full report is online here, along with links to some of the national stories and Collett's online response.

Idaho exchange board member quits, gets big no-bid contract

A board member of the Idaho health insurance exchange quit Wednesday, the same day the exchange awarded his company a no-bid contract worth up to $375,000, the Associated Press reports. Frank Chan resigned from the Your Health Idaho board to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest, board members said. Chan's company, Boise-based Applied Computing, will serve as the exchange's information technology consultant; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Earlier this year, Miller reports, Chan was appointed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to help oversee the Internet marketplace created under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. It allows people to shop for insurance and learn if they qualify for federal subsidies. He had been technology chairman of the 19-member volunteer board. Chan will now earn $180 an hour to oversee the exchange's technology vendors as it works to replace a glitch-filled federal software system with one that's state-based by next year. The exchange is seeking a $50 million, taxpayer-funded grant from the federal government to pay for that project.

Idaho insurance exchange could raise its per-policy fee by 2016

Idaho's state health insurance exchange, Yourhealthidaho.org, has been touting the big savings it offers Idahoans over a federal exchange, since its fee on policies has been set at just 1.5 percent, compared to 3.5 percent for federally run exchanges. But the Associated Press reports that emails obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law show exchange officials have been discussing a possible hike in that fee to 2.6 percent by 2016, to meet requirements that the exchange be self-sustaining by then. That would still offer savings compared to a federal exchange, but would be significantly higher than the current fee, cutting into the amount of savings for Idahoans.

Exchange finance chief Pat Kelly planned a presentation to the exchange's finance committee in early September on the possible fee hike, but executive director Amy Dowd canceled it, saying the numbers were too preliminary to be ready for public consumption. “The reason we weren't comfortable publishing 2.6 percent is, we have no clue what the number is going to be,” Dowd told the AP. “We've done some modeling, we've got some data, but as far as our comfort level, putting a number out today is not a wise decision.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho insurance exchange reports progress, despite slowdowns…

Idaho’s new health insurance exchange still is seeing frustrating computer system delays, but it’s accomplishing its other goals, state lawmakers heard this morning: In-state people are taking the calls from consumers, the state’s Department of Insurance is regulating the plans offered, and buyers are being referred to Idaho insurance agents and brokers. Plus, Idahoans should save millions over the coming year, compared to the cost of letting the federal government run its exchange. That’s because buyers of plans on federally run exchanges pay a 3.5 percent fee to cover the cost of the exchange; Idaho’s fee is just 1.5 percent. The Legislature’s joint Health Care Task Force heard a report on the exchange’s progress at its meeting today; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho exchange premiums come in below average of states

Idaho’s premiums through its new state health insurance exchange so far are coming in below the average, Joy Wilson, director of health and human services policy for the National Conference of State Legislatures, told Idaho lawmakers this morning. “The rates vary tremendously from state to state,” Wilson told the Legislature’s joint Health Care Task Force. She offered some figures for a 27-year-old, before any tax credits: For the lowest “bronze” level benefit plan, the average was $163 a month; Idaho’s rate is $150. For the lowest silver plan, average was $203, Idaho’s is $182; and for the lowest gold-level plan, average is $240 and Idaho’s rate is $211. For catastrophic plans, Idaho was slightly above the average for a 27-year-old, at $134, compared to $129.

Alaska and Wyoming have the highest rates, Wilson said, because “they’re people-challenged – they don’t have a lot of people, so there’s not a lot of competition. And their rates reflect that.” She said, “We’ll have to see where rates go over time. … Insurers are being cautious. Most of them are staying in markets that they’re familiar with, they’re not branching out.”

Wilson told lawmakers the initial comparisons show “you come out pretty well, actually, in terms of your rates. And this will make a difference, of course, in terms of your take-up. Rates are going to be very important, particularly to the young people.”

Exchange officials offer advice to those who experience online delays

After two days of operation of Idaho's health insurance exchange, Executive Director Amy Dowd is offering this advice to those who are experiencing delays once they hit the federal application website, to which they're routed from Idaho's Yourhealthidaho.org site: “For those who may be having difficulty, when you get to the healthcare.gov application, you may see a 'holding page' for a few minutes before you enter the application process. If you're at the holding page, do not refresh your browser or leave the page. If you do, you will lose your place in the virtual line to get into the application.”

Dowd said Idaho's Yourhealthidaho.org site had 18,000 unique visitors its first day alone. In the first two days, Idaho's call center took more than 800 calls and answered more than 100 emails.

“Due to the high volume of interest, our application through healthcare.gov has been experiencing longer than expected processing times,” she said. “We know that this is frustrating, but we really appreciate everyone’s patience. We have heard that Idahoans are getting through and that applications are processing.” Click below for Dowd's full statement.

Idaho insurance exchange up and running…

Things are busy at Idaho’s health insurance exchange today as enrollment opens, but the system hasn’t crashed as several other state exchanges around the country have reported. Instead, there are slowdowns, but everything’s functioning, and the state’s in-person assistants and insurance agents and brokers have been able to access the system. “It really is a higher volume than I think a lot of people may have thought, but it’s a positive response at this point,” said Alberto Gonzalez, operations manager for the Idaho exchange, Yourhealthidaho.org.

Ten workers at a temporary Boise call center have been taking calls non-stop all morning; Gonzalez said the average wait time has been only a minute and a half, with the longest wait at 5 minutes. “I think we’re handling the calls pretty well,” he said. Across the state, 120 in-person assisters have been trained to help people navigate the exchange, including figuring out what kind of help they may be eligible for, and how to compare and choose health insurance plans. Callers or visitors to the website can be referred to in-person assisters, agents or brokers in their area.

Idaho’s exchange website, for now, routes applicants to the federal exchange website for signups, but the state is developing its own. “We could not get the technology in place in just a few months,” Gonzalez said. But he said by a year from now, in October of 2014, “We’ll be on a full state-based exchange technology.”

Exchange officials stressed that whether people sign up today or any time between now and Dec. 15, coverage will start Jan. 1.

For Idaho uninsured, exchange starts Tuesday

Idaho’s state health insurance exchange opens Tuesday, allowing about 200,000 uninsured Idahoans to begin enrolling in health insurance plans; the coverage starts Jan. 1. Amy  Dowd, a health care consultant hired in April to run Idaho’s exchange, told the AP’s John Miller, “We don't have a set target we're expecting for enrollment. Our goals for our open enrollment period are to educate, get the word out that this is available.” Click below for Miller’s full report on the exchange startup, including a by-the-numbers roundup of costs, salaries, carriers, where to call and more.

Meanwhile, S-R reporter John Webster has a report here on the health care reform law changes and what they mean for you, whether you’re on Medicare or Medicaid, insured through your employer, have individual coverage now or are uninsured.

Labrador co-sponsors bill to avert government shutdown only if health reform defunded, delayed

1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador announced today that he is co-sponsoring a resolution introduced today by Rep. Tom Graves, R-Georgia, to avert a government shutdown Oct. 1 only if President Obama's health care law is both de-funded and its individual mandate to purchase insurance delayed for a year. “If there’s any single issue that can unite House Republicans and has the strong support of the American people, it’s getting rid of ObamaCare,” Labrador declared. “The resolution I’m cosponsoring will keep the government open while keeping overall spending at the same rate the Senate has already agreed to through the sequester.  House Leadership should bring it to the floor for a vote.  If the House passes it and the Senate rejects it, it will be the Senate that’s responsible for shutting down the government.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, but House Republicans must seize this opportunity to keep our promises to the American people on ObamaCare.” 

Click below for Labrador's full news release. Meanwhile, President Obama, in a White House speech yesterday, blasted House Republicans who are taking that position, saying, “I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can't get 100% of what it wants.” In his speech, which House GOP leaders criticized as partisan, Obama asked, “Are some of these folks so beholden to one extreme wing of their party that they're willing to tank our whole economy?”

Idaho insurance exchange to offer 161 health insurance plans

Idaho’s state health insurance exchange announced today that it will offer 161 health insurance plans at various coverage levels, from eight providers, when it opens for business Jan. 1; enrollment starts Oct 1. The selection will include 76 individual health plans, 55 small-group health plans for small businesses, 13 individual dental plans and 17 small-group dental plans. “We are pleased that our Idaho insurance companies have offered plenty of plans to choose from,” said state Department of Insurance Director Bill Deal. “We encourage Idahoans to visit Yourhealthidaho.org and speak with a producer or in-person assister to learn more about their options.”

The exchange will allow eligible Idahoans – those who don’t already have employer-provided health coverage, and who fit certain income guidelines – to shop, compare and enroll in the various plans, and access government subsidies, if they qualify, to help offset their costs. Monthly premiums, before any subsidies, will range from a low of $160 for an individual to a high of $1,098 for a family of four. You can read the exchange’s full announcement here.

Idaho insurance exchange goes live on the web with new URL

Idaho’s state health insurance exchange now has a web address: Yourhealthidaho.org. The website was unveiled at a news conference today by Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho exchange executive director Amy Dowd; it’s the site where residents and small businesses can shop for health insurance coverage provided by competing private health insurance companies, with premium costs reduced by federal subsidies; enrollment starts Oct. 1.

“I’m still against Obamacare,” Otter said. “But I recognize we do have an obligation. If Obamacare does happen to go away, it does not absolve us right here in Idaho to do what we can to take care of our own.” You can read our full report here from S-R reporter John Webster.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 222,000 Idahoans have no health insurance; many of the uninsured work for small businesses or are self-employed. The Affordable Care Act prohibits insurance companies from declining to issue health insurance because an applicant is sick, prohibits higher rates for those with existing health problems, prohibits lifetime or annual caps on the benefits insurance policies will pay, requires coverage of preventive care without co-pays, and requires standard benefit packages so consumers can make apples-to-apples comparisons when selecting a policy.

Idaho insurance exchange inks $1.4 million contract for startup

The Idaho health insurance exchange board has selected Boston-based Public Consulting Group for its biggest contract, for professional services including information technology. The $1.4 million pact runs from July 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2014, though either party can cancel with 30 days notice. The firm is charged with handling eligibility and enrollment, consumer assistance, plan management, Medicaid integration and more for the exchange, for both Track 1, in which the exchange will start signing people up Oct. 1 with some assistance from federal systems, and Track 2, in which the full function of Idaho’s exchange will be Idaho-based, including the technology platform.

Paul Buckley, director of government affairs for the firm, said its Idaho exchange work will be managed out of its Denver office. Public Consulting Group is a provider of management consulting services to state, county and municipal governments across the nation, with a growing presence in Canada and Europe as well. It mainly focuses on health care, but has expanded into education, human services, and government information technology as well. You can read the full 22-page contract here; the exchange board announced it at their public meeting Thursday afternoon.

Health insurance exchange board plans extended closed meeting

The board overseeing Idaho's health insurance exchange plans a 3-hour, 40-minute meeting behind a downtown Boise law office's closed doors where citizens will be barred Thursday — nearly twice as long as a public meeting scheduled later that day, AP reporter John Miller reports. Click below for his full report.

H&W preps for Medicaid expansion, just in case state goes that route

Idaho has so far balked at expanding Medicaid coverage for more low-income residents, part of President Barack Obama's insurance overhaul left optional for states by the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare doesn't want to get caught flat-footed, just in case lawmakers and Gov. Butch Otter decide otherwise, Associated Press reporter John Miller reports. So for just over a month, Health and Welfare has been quietly asking private insurance companies for details about how they'd go about providing expanded Medicaid coverage for roughly 104,000 adults who earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line.

Companies have until Wednesday to submit their feedback. “Basically, we want to be ready, if and when Idaho decides to expand,” said Denise Chuckovich, Health and Welfare's deputy director in charge of Medicaid. Click below for Miller's full report.

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 insurance exchange awards first contract, for outreach, communications

After a competitive RFP process, Idaho's new state-based health insurance exchange has awarded its first contract, a $200,000 contract with a communications team led by Gallatin Public Affairs to conduct statewide market research, create an initial Exchange website, develop the communication strategy, create educational materials for use around the state, manage media relations and develop the Exchange’s new branding. The contract will run through August 16, 2013, with the option to extend for additional scopes of work as needed. Other members of the team are Boise-based GS Strategy Group, a firm with local and national expertise in public opinion and consumer behavior research, and Burson-Marsteller, a full-service, integrated public relations firm with experience in large scale public education campaigns.

Click below for the exchange's announcement, which also includes announcements of staff members Jody Olson, director of communications and marketing; and Alberto Gonzalez, operations project manager; he's a former bureau chief at the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare. The exchange is currently in the process of selecting a contractor for professional services,  including procuring additional federal grants and helping oversee development of the system enrollees will use to select coverage and determine their eligibility for federal, income-dependent subsidies.

KidsCount says Idaho families face coverage gap without Medicaid expansion

KidsCount, the organization that tracks various measures of children’s well-being, is highlighting a concern about the impact of a failure to expand Medicaid on Idaho families: A coverage gap that would develop when middle-income families qualify for tax credits to help them get insurance coverage in 2014, but low-income families wouldn’t. That’s because the national health-care reform law anticipated that lower-income families would be covered through Medicaid expansion, which the law originally made mandatory for all states; the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that, saying states can decide whether to expand Medicaid or not. The AP reports that 23 states and the District of Columbia have announced they’ll expand Medicaid; 18 have declined and nine are undecided. Idaho is among the undecided, for now.

Idaho KidsCount put together an infographic to demonstrate the gap; you can see a full-sized version here. It shows two fictional Idaho families of four, one with a household income of $31,680, the other, $23,155. The higher-income family would qualify for a $10,206 tax credit toward the $11,209 annual premium to cover both the family’s adults. The lower-income family would get nothing to help with that cost, in the absence of Medicaid expansion, though the kids in both families would be covered.

“Idaho’s families want to have the security of knowing they can get the health care they need without facing devastating medical bills,” said Lauren Necochea, Idaho KidsCount director. “We also want our state to have laws that are fair to everyone and don’t play favorites. Accepting the Medicaid dollars would bring Idaho closer to those goals.” You can see KidsCount’s full statement here.

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About this blog

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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