Click on the new website for the Idaho Health Insurance Exchange and the opening page prominently displays a countdown of the days, hours and minutes to its Oct. 1 opening.
As if exchange administrators were not already under enough pressure.
A very reluctant Legislature authorized creation of an Idaho exchange at the 11th hour; March 22, compared with May 2011 in Washington. The alternative was an exchange managed by the federal government, an intolerable concession for any right-thinking champion of state prerogatives.
Because of the late start, officials have adopted what might best be called a hybrid approach to meeting the deadline to start signing citizens up for one of the health plans five companies have committed to sell in Idaho. In fact, for the first year, Idahoans will be buying plans on the federal exchange, but through a site wrapped in Idaho bandages. Exchange officials introduced the site Tuesday. On the surface, they have done a commendable job.
Your Health Idaho ( www.yourhealthidaho.org) is attractive, easy to navigate and informative. It looks like Idaho. This is not a site that will intimidate the wary, nor incite those who remain steadfastly opposed to Obamacare.
Unfortunately, what it does not yet have is a matrix of the plans and rates the insurance companies will be selling; that information is now available in every surrounding state with the possible exception of Utah, where the individual and small business markets are split. With just 40 days and some hours and minutes to go, Idahoans anxious to sign up will not have much time for buying a policy.
Under the best of circumstances, everyone knows how complicated a process buying the right coverage can be. The calculations will be further complicated by a separate determination of how much premium assistance will be available, depending on household income.
Consumer Connectors, the designated helpers in Idaho, has a steep learning curve ahead.
Not that Idaho is the only state scrambling. Cover Oregon, that state’s exchange, recently announced it would delay its debut for as much as a month while workers debug its system. The connectivity challenges of the approaching launch are mind-boggling, even for systems as far along as Washington’s.
Looking ahead, and assuming the nation’s health insurance marketplace does not experience an epic meltdown, there is unfinished business in Idaho. By rejecting more federal money with Medicaid, Idaho’s lawmakers are disqualifying the poorest of the state’s citizens for help. Not only will they suffer financially and/or medically, the burden on hospitals that health care reform was designed in part to relieve will remain.
Those patients – as many as 70,000 – will still show up in emergency rooms without the means to pay for their care.
Your Health Idaho should apply to all who live there.