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Idaho unveils health insurance website

The state of Idaho today unveiled, a website where Idahoans can get information about the opportunity to purchase subsidized health insurance under Obamacare.

The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires a website in each state, 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.

In states that decline to establish a site of their own, federal government will operate the site for them, at That federal site, like the new, offers detailed information about Obamacare.

Idaho’s Republican-dominated government opposed the new law, enacted by Congress in 2010, and it was only last March that Idaho’s Legislature voted to establish a state-run insurance marketplace. This did not leave enough time for Idaho to develop and test the secure website infrastructure that’s required for users to shop among the competing health insurance providers and sign up for coverage.

Consequently, on Oct. 1 when insurance sales begin for policies to take effect Jan. 1, links on the new website will direct Idaho users to a section of the federal site, By about a year from now, the state hopes to have developed its own secure web site apparatus, to process Idahoans’ applications for insurance.

Only on the government insurance-buying sites can users obtain federal subsidies to reduce the cost of their health insurance. The subsidies are available up to 400 percent of federal poverty level – $62,040 for a family of two, or $94,200/year for a family of four.

At today’s press conference, Gov. Butch Otter said his state was able to negotiate a good deal with the feds. In states that choose not to operate their own insurance buying website, a 3.5 percent assessment was to be applied to insurance sold on the federal exchange, to cover the federal site’s operating costs. But because Idaho decided to create its own exchange organization – even though it will rely on federal infrastructure for the first year – an assessment of only 1.5 percent will be applied to the health insurance Idahoans will purchase online. Together with federal grants which have been awarded to launch Idaho’s website, the assessment will pay future operating costs for Idaho’s exchange organization.

Amy Dowd, executive director of the Idaho Health Insurance Exchange, noted that her organization also is working to establish a 1-800 call-in center, and a statewide network of in-person “consumer connectors.” Both the call center and the in-person assistance are requirements of the federal law, to make sure that people learn about the opportunity to get health insurance, even if they do not have an internet connection.

“I’m still against Obamacare,” Otter said in announcing the new website URL. “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.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 222,000 Idahoans have no health insurance. Nationwide research has found that 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.