BOISE – Delays continue to frustrate users of Idaho’s new health insurance exchange, but the program is accomplishing goals: Call-in customers are receiving help, regulators are monitoring coverage plans, and Idaho insurance agents and brokers are netting referrals.
Having a state-run exchange is expected to save Idahoans millions of dollars over the coming year when compared to the cost of letting the federal government run its exchange.
“We do have confidence we can do this cheaper than the feds can,” Amy Dowd, executive director of YourHealthIdaho.org, told state lawmakers on Monday.
Enrollment figures haven’t been released, but Dowd said if 50,000 insurance plans are sold during the first year, Idahoans would save $2.9 million. If more optimistic projections for up to 121,000 new enrollees are met, their savings would hit $7 million.
Interest has been strong, she reported, with 18,600 Idahoans visiting the website on its opening day and 7,000 each on the two following days. Heavier than expected Web traffic has led to big slowdowns on the federal enrollment site across the nation, Dowd said, “which are still apparent as of this morning – and that’s frustrating.”
Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, said it’s frustrating that the state is having to use the federal government’s technology platform for its first year – including the federal website that’s the source of the computer delays. But he said he was “very encouraged by the differences” between Idaho’s operation and a federally run exchange.
Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, said, “I think it’s probably too early to know how it’s going. … I’m still pretty skeptical of the whole thing.”
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, noted that Idaho isn’t having to pay anything for its temporary use of the federal website, a deal negotiated by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter. The move came because lawmakers approved the state exchange too late for a new, Idaho-only online enrollment system to be up and running by the start of enrollment this month.
The state plans to have its own technology platform up and running by Oct. 15, 2014.
“We have a lot of vendors that are interested,” Dowd said.
States had to open online exchanges to allow uninsured people to shop for insurance plans and access new federal subsidies by Oct. 1, or let the federal government handle that function for them. Both Idaho and Washington opted for their own exchanges.
While Washington raced ahead to build its own exchange early on, Idaho just made that decision this year. The result was a tight timeline and the need to use the federal enrollment website for a year while the state set up sales, outreach and regulatory systems.
Initial comparisons show Idaho’s insurance premiums cost less.
Dowd reported that 450 Idaho insurance agents or brokers have been certified to sell health plans on YourHealthIdaho.org. Another 120 assistants around the state can help people navigate the system and determine if they qualify for subsidies.