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Idaho exchange part of big success story for Silicon Valley tech firm

The successful launch of Idaho’s new health insurance exchange website is part of a big success story for a Silicon Valley tech firm that's providing the software through a $37 million contract, and also working with exchanges in California, New Mexico and Mississippi.  GetInsured, headed by two tech entrepreneurs with a history of successful startups, formed as a private insurance exchange company in 2005, then got into the state exchange business after the Affordable Care Act passed; it beat out companies 10 times its size for the New Mexico contract, which is worth $39.9 million. Idaho's paid it $26 million so far; the project's on budget and on time.

“It was a great implementation,” said company spokeswoman Andrea Riggs, in Palo Alto, Calif. “It went very smoothly. … It’s a testament to the power of software as a service and the platform that we’re using.” The company’s co-founders, Chini Krishnan, above, and Shankar Srinivasan, at right, both have two-decade track records in the high-tech industry. Krishnan, the CEO, earlier played a key role in an innovative secure browser released by Enterprise Integration Technologies, and his last company, Valicert Inc., went public in 2000 and merged with Tumbleweed Technologies in 2003. Srinivasan, the chief operating officer, served as vice president of eBusiness services at JP Morgan Chase, co-founded CyberBills, and was a member of the founding team behind WebMD. You can read my full story here at

Idaho insurance exchange reports flawless enrollment launch over the weekend

Idaho’s state health insurance exchange – unlike Washington’s – reported a flawless launch over the weekend to its second open enrollment period, as the state shifted from relying on a federal technology platform to its own home-built one. “It’s 360 degrees different,” said Pat Kelly, Your Health Idaho executive director. At last year’s launch, he said, “It just plain didn’t work.” This time, he said, “We had a very successful first couple of days, no technology problems to speak of.” The Washington state exchange went down early Saturday due to a glitch over calculating tax credit information; it started back up on Sunday.

Idaho had one of the nation’s strongest enrollment rates through its state exchange last year, with 76,000 Idahoans using it to enroll in health plans and, if they qualified, receive tax credits to offset some of the costs. That made Idaho third in the nation for exchange participation, behind only Vermont and Florida.

Idaho’s exchange, approved by state lawmakers two years ago after a big fight and at the behest of GOP Gov. Butch Otter, allows the state to control the marketplace, the carriers and the plans that are offered, and to use Idaho insurance agents and brokers. Had Idaho not started its own exchange, under the federal Affordable Care Act, its residents would have used a federal insurance exchange, which charges higher fees – 3.5 percent of premiums, vs. Your Health Idaho’s 1.5 percent fee.

But Idaho wasn’t ready last year to have a website up and running for its exchange, so it relied on the federal exchange website, making Idaho’s exchange a federal-state partnership. Now, that’s all happening in-state. You can read my full story here at

Idaho insurance exchange gears up its own signup system for Nov. 15 launch

Idaho's state health insurance exchange,, is gearing up for the launch of its own Internet sign-up system on Nov. 15, the start of the next open enrollment period for health plans through the exchange, the Idaho State Journal reports. “Launching our own technology platform brings all elements of the exchange into Idaho and puts Idahoans in control of our own fate,” exchange board Chairman Stephen Weeg said. “The technology will be ours, our customer service representatives will be in Idaho, and we will continue to work with Idaho agents and brokers.” When Idaho's exchange first began operating, it routed customers through the federal health insurance exchange online platform, while starting work to develop its own in-state. Click below for a full report from the State Journal and the Associated Press.

Idaho insurance exchange names new executive director, picks local after national search

Idaho’s state health insurance exchange, YourHealthIdaho, has named a new executive director: Pat Kelly, the former finance director for the exchange who was named interim executive director in July. “Pat has been with us since the very beginning and has a deep understanding of our commitment to our customers and to our state,” said Stephen Weeg, board chairman for the exchange. “After a very competitive nationwide search, we realized we already had the right leader in place.”

Kelly replaces Amy Dowd, who left in July to head New Mexico’s state health insurance exchange. Prior to joining the exchange, he was a Boise businessman, working in telecommunications, manufacturing and business consulting. Weeg said, “Pat has kept YourHealthIdaho on track during a critical time. We are less than two months away from launching our own technology platform. It has been a challenging process but Pat has been able to bring key stakeholders to the table to ensure we take care of our customers when open enrollment starts on Nov. 15.”

No changes likely for Idaho insurance exchange customers from conflicting court rulings

After two conflicting appellate court rulings yesterday - in Washington, D.C. and in Richmond, Va. - about whether federal subsidies apply to those purchasing health insurance in states that haven’t set up their own insurance exchanges, Idaho’s exchange,, announced that Idahoans should see no change in their subsidies, the Idaho Statesman reports. Amy Dowd, YourHealthIdaho executive director, said in a statement, “As a state-based marketplace, Your Health Idaho has requested official guidance to confirm that this ruling does not impact Idahoans. … As we have known for some time, the benefits of being a state-based health insurance exchange far outweigh Idaho being on the federal exchange. As Idaho transitions to our own technology, we are even more confident in Idaho’s decision to maintain control of the exchange in Idaho.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter issued a statement, the Statesman reported, saying, “While it has no immediate impact on Idaho, I hope the decision in the D.C. case eventually carries the day before the U.S. Supreme Court and leads to the end of Obamacare. But for now, it doesn’t reduce or eliminate federal control over healthcare matters in states with federal exchanges. If anything, the uncertainty from today’s conflicting decisions could make things worse for them.”

Statesman reporter Audrey Dutton reports that almost 70,000 of the 76,000 people in Idaho who bought insurance through Idaho’s exchange are getting subsidies; her full report is online here.

Idaho health insurance exchange losing two of its top four staffers

Idaho’s state health insurance exchange,, is losing two of its top three staffers – Executive Director Amy Dowd is leaving to become CEO of the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange, and Alberto Gonzalez, operations project manager and a former bureau chief for the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare, is leaving for a consulting firm.

Steven Weeg, chairman of the board of the Idaho exchange, said the board will work with Dowd, Gonzalez and the rest of the staff on a transition plan; Dowd was hired in 2013, and hired Gonzalez shortly afterward, along with marketing and communications director Jody Olson. The staff also includes finance director Patrick Kelly.

“We are thankful for all Amy has done for us,” Weeg said in a statement. “When she first started, Idaho’s exchange was just an idea. With her leadership we built an exchange from the ground up and beat everyone’s expectations for the first open enrollment period. Amy has put us on the right path and we are confident YourHealthIdaho will continue to succeed in the 2015 open enrollment period and beyond.”

More than 76,000 Idahoans sign up for insurance through state exchange

The numbers are in from the YourHealthIdaho insurance exchange open enrollment period, and it turns out that 76,061 Idahoans signed up for health insurance plans through the exchange. The federal government’s expectation for Idaho was 40,000 during the six-month open enrollment period. “We have significantly exceeded those estimated targets,” said Amy Dowd, executive director of the exchange. “It’s very exciting, very, very encouraging that we are on the right path. Idahoans are interested in getting insurance for themselves and their families.” You can read my full story here at

The YourHealthIdaho board has voted to keep fees at 1.5 percent of plan costs through the end of calendar year 2015; that’s compared to the fee on federally operated insurance exchanges of 3.5 percent. Exchange officials are estimating that Idahoans are saving $4.4 million on their health insurance due to the lower fee for the state exchange. That’s based on the average monthly premium rate of $242. “We are committed to keeping our assessment fees low,” Dowd said.

Idaho launched at the urging of Gov. Butch Otter, after two years of extensive debate in the state Legislature. Opponents of starting a state exchange include Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who is now challenging Otter in the GOP primary. Opponents have maintained Idaho should take no part in health care reform, even though failing to start a state insurance exchange would have meant Idaho would have gotten a federally run exchange instead.

Idaho’s exchange currently is operating on millions in federal grant funding, but starting in 2016, it must become self-supporting, relying entirely on fees. By law, no state funds can be spent on it. Dowd said it’s not yet clear just how many Idahoans must enroll to make the exchange self-supporting, but said the latest numbers are “very, very encouraging that we are on the right trajectory and on the right path to have a financially sustainable exchange.”

Idaho ranks 2nd in nation for per-capita health exchange enrollments

Idaho’s state health insurance exchange,, reports today that 32,899 Idahoans have now selected a health insurance plan through the exchange, up 65 percent from a month ago. That ranks Idaho second in the nation for per-capita successful enrollments, behind only Vermont.

“We are excited enrollment numbers have reached nearly 33,000 but we still have a lot of work to do by March 31,” said Jody Olson, communications director. To get coverage effective by March 1, 2014, the deadline to enroll is February 15, 2014.  Olson also warned that from noon Mountain time on Feb. 15 to 3 a.m. on Feb. 18, the federal site that handles verification of Social Security numbers and determinations of tax credit eligibility will be down for maintenance work, halting those functions during that time; that means anyone who wants coverage by March 1 needs to apply before noon on the 15th. Click below for a breakdown of the signups thus far.

State exchange reports enrollment figures, 24% of 20,000 enrollees are ages 18-34, Idaho's state health insurance exchange, reports today that 19,922 Idahoans have now purchased health insurance plans through the exchange, 48,082 have completed applications, 40,205 have been determined eligible to buy insurance on the exchange, and 26,665 have been found eligible for federal financial assistance to buy insurance. “These numbers show that the marketplace is working for Idaho,” said Amy Dowd, YourHealthIdaho executive director; she noted that the number who have selected plans is up by more than 1,000 times from just a month ago. “With three more months of open enrollment left, our work is far from over but I am confident that our efforts will pay off,” she said. Click below for the exchange's full announcement, including breakdowns of enrollees by age, gender and plan type. So far, 31 percent have been ages 55-64, and 24 percent ages 18-34.


Idaho exchange enrollment swells

Enrollment in insurance plans through Idaho’s state-run health care exchange has swelled since the federal government fixed the website that residents use to sign up coverage, the AP reports, with about 20,000 Idahoans enrolling in time for their coverage to begin Jan. 1. That’s up from 1,730 people through Nov. 30. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho insurance exchange to begin ad campaign after delay

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's insurance exchange will begin its paid marketing campaign after Dec. 20, a delay of more than a month. Still, don't expect to see Your Health Idaho television advertising over Christmas. Consultants told the exchange's board Thursday that holiday TV spots were too expensive, so marketing will concentrate instead on radio, Internet and newspapers. The exchange's $3 million-plus ad campaign has been pushed back due to massive problems signing people up for coverage since Oct. 1. Since uninsured people remain largely unaware that Idaho even has an exchange, exchange spokeswoman Jody Olson told board members it's important to begin as soon as possible. Marketing will be aimed at building brand awareness and encouraging people to enroll in coverage that's a key part of President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law.

Numbers quadruple for YourHealthIdaho enrollment, up to 1,730

The latest numbers are out for enrollment in health care plans through the exchange, and 1,730 Idahoans have now enrolled in plans, up from 338 at the last report Nov. 13. Another 1,854 applicants were determined to be eligible for Medicaid. Applications have been completed for 15,048 Idahoans, and 7,133 of those have been deemed eligible for subsidies.

“We are hearing success stories from all around the state of people getting online and getting coverage, some for the first time,” said Amy Dowd, executive director of the Idaho exchange. You can read the full announcement here.

Idahoans get more time to buy exchange plans

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The troubled rollout of insurance exchanges in Idaho and elsewhere has prompted the federal government to delay another deadline, this time giving prospective enrollees more time to get coverage before it goes into effect Jan. 1. Your Health Idaho enrollees will have until Dec. 23, back from Dec. 15, to select a plan in order to be insured by the New Year. Amy Dowd, Idaho's exchange director, says this new deadline gives people more time to make a choice about their coverage, required under President Obama's 2010 health care overhaul. Dowd also said in a statement the federal online application form Idaho is using has been improved and is functioning better. Even so, additional improvements are still in the works to remedy the problem-plagued launch of exchanges since Oct. 1.

Thousands apply for Washington, Idaho insurance exchange plans

Nearly 120,000 Washington residents have completed applications for health insurance through the state’s insurance exchange, a federal report revealed today, and more than 10,500 Idahoans have completed applications through their state’s exchange. Those numbers are far higher than the numbers who have selected the plan they want to enroll in through the exchanges – 7,091 in Washington and 338 in Idaho. But they do show that thousands in both states have made their way through the application process, despite initial glitches, particularly with the federal computer system that Idaho’s relied on. You can read my full story here at

Nationally, just 106,185 individuals have selected and enrolled in plans through exchanges, but more than 1.5 million have completed applications, 1.08 million of those were deemed eligible for exchange plans, and 326,130 qualified for new federal subsidies.

After three-hour closed meeting, health exchange board says it’ll keep contract probe secret

Board members of the Idaho health insurance exchange said Tuesday that they will keep secret the findings of a $15,000 taxpayer-funded investigation into how one of its own members won a lucrative no-bid contract, the Associated Press reports. Your Health Idaho board chairman Stephen Weeg said the two-week-long review by a private lawyer uncovered “lapses in judgment,” though nothing illegal. Exchange executive director Amy Dowd last month awarded a technology contract worth up to $375,000 to board member Frank Chan, who quit the same day the contract was announced.

Dowd gave Chan the contract without advertising it or allowing others to compete. It was later canceled after House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, joined critics who called Dowd's deal with an exchange insider “indefensible.” Boise lawyer Frederick Mack was hired to scrutinize the deal. He presented his report Tuesday during a three-hour, closed-door exchange board meeting at the Idaho Capitol.

“The key finding was: We violated no law, that lapses of judgment were made around the procurement policy and conflict-of-interest policy,” Weeg said following the meeting. “He had recommendations for us to move forward as an organization.” However, Weeg said the public will never be able to see Mack's recommendations or findings. “It deals with personnel, and it's done under attorney-client privilege,” said Weeg, a retired Pocatello health care industry executive who heads up the volunteer board. He declined to detail the judgment lapses Mack found or who committed them; click below for the full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Crowd fills Capitol halls as two state boards meet in closed session…

There’s a substantial crowd of folks gathered in the garden-level hallway of the state Capitol this morning, as two state boards – the Idaho Land Board, and the state health insurance exchange board – hold closed-door executive sessions at the same time, in meeting rooms directly across from each other. The Land Board is discussing potential litigation relating to state-owned lakefront cabin sites, while the exchange board is discussing a newly completed independent review of the now-canceled contract awarded to a former exchange board member, Frank Chan. The exchange board plans to reconvene in public session to discuss the probe after the closed-door talk of personnel matters related to it. It’s unclear whether the Land Board will have further public business after its closed-door session.

There was a full house for this morning’s special Land Board meeting, with just two items on the agenda: A one-year extension of current cabin site leases, at current rates, to allow time for reappraisals; and the executive session. The extension comes in the wake of the board’s sudden rejection last month of two major land exchanges, designed to swap cabin sites for higher-yielding commercial property in southern Idaho.

Dowd to lawmakers: Despite ‘confusion,’ exchange fee not expected to rise from 1.5%, Idaho’s state health insurance exchange, is not planning to raise its fee per health plan from the current 1.5 percent level, executive director Amy Dowd told lawmakers this morning. “There has been some confusion on this issue based on work that my staff engaged in to fulfill some reporting requirements recently,” Dowd told the Idaho Legislature’s Health Care Task Force. “We are required to evaluate a full range of possibilities and what-if scenarios. Some of those projections contemplated a far higher rate. In no way was that evaluation a proposal for the future. In Idaho, we can, and are expected, to run a system more efficiently than the federal government. I understand that the expectation is that we run the exchange at a 1.5 percent fee.”

Still no numbers out on Idahoans enrolling in exchange insurance plans…

Idaho’s health insurance exchange executive director, Amy Dowd, told lawmakers this morning that the state won’t get any numbers from the feds on how many Idahoans have enrolled in health insurance through the exchange until the end of November; she had earlier said she expected to have figures by this week. “We do know that there are Idahoans enrolling,” she told the Legislature’s Health Care Task Force.

Dowd told the lawmakers, “Your Health Idaho is doing two things right now: One, we are preventing federal intervention in Idaho, and two, we are providing a much-needed resource for thousands of Idahoans looking for insurance.” She said Idaho’s exchange is relying on the federal technology platform for its first year. “At the federal level, we all know it is not working,” she said. “We were not notified in advance… Your Health Idaho has had to quickly respond to the federal failure.”

Though she’s received no specifics, Dowd said she’d heard that last-minute changes prior to the rollout cased the failures. Idaho is in the middle of a request for proposals process for its own technology platform, which Dowd said should be up by fall of 2014. In the meantime, the Your Health Idaho board has directed Dowd to develop a tool where Idahoans can shop anonymously on the website and compare plans, without first setting up an account and submitting all their information. Dowd said the exchange is looking into developing such a tool, but it likely will take four to six weeks; in the meantime, it’s posted an online booklet with all plan information. That booklet is lengthy, but it’s a useful tool for brokers and agents to be able to access, she said. An Idaho-specific calculator will be posted on the site later this week, she said, to help Idahoans determine how much they might qualify for in subsidies.

Until all the technology works, Dowd said, Idahoans who go to can complete paper applications and get help over the phone.

Idaho exchange board approves new rules to keep insiders from profiting

Idaho's insurance exchange board backed new rules Wednesday meant to keep insiders from profiting inappropriately from ties to the Internet health care marketplace, the AP reports, in the wake of a now-canceled no-bid contract with a former board member. The board decided that members who leave the volunteer panel appointed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter must wait at least 12 months before securing paid work with the exchange unless two-thirds of the panel votes to waive that restriction. “I think it's appropriate,” said state Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell and an exchange board member; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Otter wants delay in individual mandate to let Idaho build its own exchange tech platform

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he wants a delay in the individual mandate to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, to allow Idaho's insurance exchange to get its own technology platform up and running, rather than piggybacking on the troubled federal tech site. “Of all the challenges we’re facing with Idaho’s state-based health insurance exchange, none have been more disappointing than the chorus of those who attribute each setback to cronyism or conspiracy, and those whose most constructive criticism is 'I told you so,'” Otter wrote in a statement distributed to Idaho news media today. “When we run into a problem, Idahoans fix it. When we encounter difficulties, Idahoans overcome them. We always have, and we’re working hard to do the same in this case.”

Click below for Otter's full statement. He writes, “The technology consulting contract awarded to a former Exchange board member was expeditiously and correctly voided last week. Yes, it should never have happened to begin with, but when it did the process worked.” Then he says he wrote to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, requesting the delay. “They say the first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging. Folks, we can stay mired in the would have/could have/should have of this situation and let our partisan or philosophical petulance overtake us, or we can focus instead on climbing out of this hole and asserting our Idaho independence and sovereignty by finishing the job we started last winter,” Otter writes. “I choose to climb.”

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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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