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Filing for unemployment not entirely online-friendly

BOISE – Idaho unemployment claims are running at high volume, with 45,000 active claims as of mid-June, thanks to the economic downturn and widespread layoffs, including those in the high-tech sector.

Here’s an oddity, though: Sixty percent of jobless claims in the first quarter of this year were filed online, as opposed to in-person, the only other choice for initial claims. But the state Department of Labor’s online filing service can be accessed only with Internet Explorer 7. That leaves out those who’ve updated their browsers to the new Internet Explorer 8 (Labor spokesman Bob Fick says a work-around for IE 8 users should be ready “within a couple of weeks”), and, of course, anyone who uses a Mac.

“What we have was developed 15 years ago,” Fick said. At that time, he said, it was determined that only the Microsoft browser could handle a secure session that might stop midway through, then restart later, without the user having to start from scratch inputting data.

When the system first was developed, Fick said, 97 percent of users had Internet Explorer. “Now, only about 80 to 85 percent of the people have it,” he said.

The department’s tech people are now looking at Firefox and Safari to see what adaptations might be necessary in the online claim-filing system to make it compatible with those browsers. “It’ll be within a year that they’ll have it fixed,” Fick said. “As far as the complaints, there hasn’t been any increase or decrease in complaints. There have been Mac users that have complained all along they can’t get in. Fixing it is a question of money, and of time.”

When health insurance is priced out of reach

Young Idaho mom Amanda Buchanan picked up an old copy of “Consumer Reports” in her local library in Weiser and began leafing through it last year, and saw a call for health care stories that people wanted to share. She had just the thing.

Now, the magazine’s “Cover America Tour” project has made the young, uninsured Idaho mom the face of health care challenges in Idaho, and she hosted a letter-writing event for health care reform last week at Boise’s Municipal Park. Consumer Reports suggested it as a way to do something about the problem, she explained.

Amanda and husband Jason Vlcek wanted to have a second child, but adding the family to his insurance coverage at work – he’s an elementary school teacher – would cost the young family $820 a month in premiums, 34 percent of their household income. They couldn’t afford it.

“It got to the point where the insurance was just too high – it was eating into our basic needs,” Buchanan said. She wondered if they could afford to have a second child.

A private policy for Amanda cost less, but carried an additional $5,000 maternity deductible. They decided on a plan: She’d buy private insurance, but after the baby was born, she’d cancel hers, and use that money to pay down her medical debt, while purchasing a separate private policy just for the new baby. Meanwhile, Jason’s school district began offering a “catastrophic” insurance plan, with a $3,000 deductible, after which only 50 percent of costs are paid. They signed Jason and toddler son Kwei up.

“I just wasn’t going to leave him uninsured,” she said, watching the active 2-year-old toddle around the park. New baby Merin is now 6 months old.

State Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a physician and the House minority leader, said when lawmakers commissioned a study of the uninsured in Idaho, “It’s just these people – young, employed.  …  typically young people, who were working but just couldn’t afford it.” The 2007 study showed 18 percent of Idaho’s nonelderly population uninsured, but much higher figures for young adults – 38 percent for those age 18 to 24, and 28 percent for those age 25 to 34; it also showed that 60 percent of Idaho’s uninsured adults are employed.

Amanda knows she’s taking a risk, and it concerns her. But she and her family also are healthy – aside from giving birth, she’s never been admitted to a hospital, and hasn’t gone to the doctor since 2004. “The fact is, the cost of decent insurance cripples my family financially,” she said.

Otter: ‘Idaho is weathering this storm’

Gov. Butch Otter says there are some bright spots in Idaho’s current economic downturn, including an Idaho Air National Guard project at Gowen Field that’s restoring 57 jobs, a 16-employee manufacturing firm moving from Spokane to Post Falls, and an expansion in ammunition manufacturing in Lewiston. “Many people are working behind the scenes, helping our companies and communities recover and prosper,” the governor wrote in an op-ed piece. “None of that lessens the very real challenges still facing many Idahoans right now, but I hope it offers some hope that we are on the right track.”

Contact Betsy Russell at, (866) 336-2854.