August 21, 2013 in City, Health, Idaho

Idaho debuts health insurance exchange website

Visitors will be directed to federal system at first
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Official FAQs

Idaho’s health insurance exchange has released a PDF information sheet containing answers to frequently asked questions about what’s coming for Idahoans who need affordable health insurance.

The state of Idaho on Tuesday unveiled yourhealthidaho.org, a website where Idahoans can get information about the opportunity to purchase subsidized health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

For the time being, the site will serve only as a front door to a federal website that will do the technical work of enabling Idahoans to choose among competing insurance plans, apply for federal subsidies and purchase coverage.

The hybrid of state and federal websites results from Idaho’s long debate over compliance with federal law.

Idaho’s Republican-dominated government opposed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, enacted by Congress in 2010. The federal law requires a website for 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.

For states that decline to establish a site of their own, the law says the federal government will operate a site for them, at healthcare.gov. That federal site, like yourhealthidaho.org, offers detailed information about the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

It was only last March that the Idaho Legislature voted to establish a state-run insurance marketplace. In late July, a management consultant was selected to begin work on the site. But a contractor to do the actual programming for an Idaho site still has not been hired, a spokesman for the Idaho exchange said Tuesday. This does not leave enough time for Idaho to develop and test the secure website infrastructure required for users to purchase an insurance policy.

Consequently, on Oct. 1, when insurance sales begin for policies to take effect Jan. 1, links on the Idaho website simply will direct users to a section of the federal site. About a year from now, Idaho officials hope to have the state’s own version of a secure system.

Only on the government insurance-buying sites can users obtain federal subsidies to reduce the cost of their health insurance. In Idaho, the subsidies are available for those with incomes at 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, topping out at $62,040 for a family of two or $94,200 a year for a family of four.

At a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Butch Otter boasted that 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 website, to cover the federal site’s operating costs. But because of Idaho’s decision to create its own, an assessment of only 1.5 percent will be applied to the health insurance Idahoans will purchase online, Otter said. Together with federal startup grants that Idaho already has been awarded, this assessment is expected to pay future operating costs for the Idaho exchange.

Amy Dowd, executive director of the Idaho exchange, noted that her organization also is working to establish a toll-free 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 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 Idaho’s new website URL. “But I recognize we do have an obligation” to take care of Idahoans.

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, according to national surveys.

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, requires 100 percent coverage above certain out-of-pocket maximums and requires standardized benefit packages so consumers can make apples-to-apples comparisons when selecting a policy.

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