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Open enrollment for health insurance underway in Idaho; state health exchange sees jump in premiums

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 1, 2017, 10:35 p.m.

Anne Way, a nurse from Panhandle Health District, gives a flu shot to Gene “Rawhide” Hyde during  a flu clinic  Oct. 10, 2008, at Lake City Senior Center in Coeur d’Alene. The state’s insurance market opened for business Wednesday. (Jerome A Pollos / File/Associated Press)
Anne Way, a nurse from Panhandle Health District, gives a flu shot to Gene “Rawhide” Hyde during a flu clinic Oct. 10, 2008, at Lake City Senior Center in Coeur d’Alene. The state’s insurance market opened for business Wednesday. (Jerome A Pollos / File/Associated Press)

Idaho’s insurance market opened for business Wednesday, giving Gem State residents a month and a half to sign up for 2018 health insurance.

Open enrollment, the period when anyone can sign up for individual health insurance, runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15 in Idaho.

Your Health Idaho, the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act, has seen sharp rises in premiums this year, largely because of a decision by President Donald Trump to end cost-sharing reduction payments that subsidized insurance companies for the cost of covering poorer customers, said Pat Kelly, the exchange’s executive director.

The payments were only offered to insurance companies when customers purchased silver plans, so those plans have seen the largest increase: an average of 39 percent over 2017 rates.

Unsubsidized silver plan monthly premiums in North Idaho range from $428.61 to $553.58 for a 40-year-old nonsmoker.

Cheaper bronze plans jumped 11 percent, while gold plans, which provide the most comprehensive coverage, rose only 9 percent. Because of that, many insurers have gold plans available for less than $20 more per month than some of their silver options.

About 84 percent of Idaho enrollees receive subsidies from the federal government that cover some or all of the cost of their premiums, Kelly said. Those subsidies are tied to the cost of the second-cheapest silver plan offered, which means customers may not see much or any price increase, especially if they have a bronze or gold plan.

“People may find health insurance more affordable than ever,” Kelly said.

In North Idaho, people can choose from several dozen plans provided by four carriers. One insurer, BridgeSpan, has left the state market for 2018. But every county has at least two carriers, and most have four, Kelly said. Statewide, 299 plans will be offered.

Because Idaho’s Department of Insurance anticipated the end of federal government payments to insurance companies, they asked companies to prepare 2018 rates with those losses in mind.

In spite of the turmoil over federal health policy, that has meant relatively smooth sailing locally heading into the enrollment period.

“We’ve really been able to maintain a business-as-usual method,” Kelly said. And people who sign up for 2018 coverage now will keep that coverage all year, regardless of any federal changes that pass in the interim.

Roughly 95,000 Idahoans, about 5.6 percent of the state’s population, got coverage on the state exchange in 2017. About 72 percent of those customers were renewing from a prior year.

People who bought coverage on the exchange in 2017 will be automatically re-enrolled in a similar plan, but Kelly encouraged people to shop around. Existing customers can sign into their accounts on yourhealthidaho.org to see their 2018 plan, rate and find out if their coverage is changing.

Customers can also cancel coverage online if they no longer need it.

Idaho also has a network of 900 insurance brokers and enrollment counselors who can help people sign up for coverage and compare benefits across plans.

In North Idaho, counselors are available at Heritage Health in Coeur d’Alene and Kellogg, Benewah Medical Center in Plummer and Kaniksu Health Services in Ponderay and Priest River. Customers can look for brokers on the Your Health Idaho website as well, or find them by calling (855) 944-3246.

“Free expert advice is a hard thing to come by these days,” Kelly said.

Washington’s open enrollment also began Wednesday, and lasts until Jan. 15. Customers must enroll by Dec. 15 to have insurance coverage start on Jan. 1. A list of plans available in northeast Washington counties is available on the state insurance commissioner’s website.