Latest from The Spokesman-Review
The latest numbers are out for enrollment in health care plans through the YourHealthIdaho.org exchange, and 1,730 Idahoans have now enrolled in plans, up from 338 at the last report Nov. 13. Another 1,854 applicants were determined to be eligible for Medicaid. Applications have been completed for 15,048 Idahoans, and 7,133 of those have been deemed eligible for subsidies.
“We are hearing success stories from all around the state of people getting online and getting coverage, some for the first time,” said Amy Dowd, executive director of the Idaho exchange. You can read the full announcement here.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The troubled rollout of insurance exchanges in Idaho and elsewhere has prompted the federal government to delay another deadline, this time giving prospective enrollees more time to get coverage before it goes into effect Jan. 1. Your Health Idaho enrollees will have until Dec. 23, back from Dec. 15, to select a plan in order to be insured by the New Year. Amy Dowd, Idaho's exchange director, says this new deadline gives people more time to make a choice about their coverage, required under President Obama's 2010 health care overhaul. Dowd also said in a statement the federal online application form Idaho is using has been improved and is functioning better. Even so, additional improvements are still in the works to remedy the problem-plagued launch of exchanges since Oct. 1.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho will let insurance carriers reinstate coverage for thousands of people who were due to have policies canceled under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said Tuesday he's asked insurance carriers to consider reinstating coverage for individuals and small businesses. But Otter said he won't require it because he's “not going to tell them how to run their business.” Amid criticism last month over canceled policies, President Obama said he'd allow insurance companies to keep selling old plans to people for another year — even if the coverage didn't meet requirements of his 2010 health law. Across the nation, states are coming to different conclusions about whether to follow Obama's lead. For instance, in Washington, regulators declined to allow policies to be renewed for another year.
Click below for Otter's full announcement, in which he says, “If they can see their way clear, I hope they’ll consider reinstating those policies.” Blue Cross of Idaho immediately announced that it will allow its individual and small-group customers that option.
Idaho's state Department of Insurance says no decision will come before December on whether Idaho will allow residents to keep existing insurance policies had initially been due for cancellation under President Obama's health care overhaul, the AP reports. Details on how health insurance companies would calculate rates for extended plans still aren't clear, the department said. Last Thursday, Obama said he'd allow insurance companies to keep selling these existing plans for another year, even if they do not meet certain Affordable Care Act criteria for coverage; the move followed criticism that he'd promised nobody would be forced out of their existing policy under the 2010 overhaul. But the decision requires state approval. Idaho is among numerous states still considering whether to follow Obama's lead.
Idaho’s biggest business lobby, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, has come out in favor of Medicaid expansion, a move that could save the state budget more than $600 million in the next decade and save county property taxpayers $478 million. In a letter to Gov. Butch Otter dated Friday, IACI President Alex LaBeau called for re-convening Otter’s task force on Medicaid redesign – which last year recommended the expansion, along with various changes to the Medicaid program – to look at how best to accomplish it.
“IACI supports Medicaid redesign in a manner that is fair to taxpayers, beneficial to employers, adds provider accountability, addresses the inherent inefficiencies in the county indigent program and the state’s catastrophic program, and minimizes the cost shift to business,” LaBeau wrote, reporting the group’s official position, adopted by its board in September; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
LaBeau is among the speakers at a forum tonight at the Boise Public Library entitled, “Opportunities & Obstacles of Medicaid Expansion;” also speaking are Jim Baugh, executive director of Disability Rights Idaho; Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, the conservative eastern Idaho lawmaker who last year introduced legislation to expand Medicaid; and Corey Surber, executive director of community health and public policy for the St. Alphonsus Health System. The free forum starts at 7 p.m.
The expansion in question would cover under Medicaid adults who make up to 138 percent of the poverty level, roughly $31,000 a year for a family of four; that originally was a mandatory part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, but the U.S. Supreme Court made it optional for states. Idaho Medicaid now covers non-disabled adults only if they have children and have income of less than 20 percent of the poverty level, or $4,584 for a family of four.
When Idahoans who fall into that uncovered category and have no health insurance run up catastrophic medical bills, whether it’s from accidents or cancer, a county-state program steps in to help with the bills, with county and state taxpayers paying 100 percent of the tab. Liens are placed on everything the patient owns, though little is generally recovered. If Idaho opted to expand Medicaid to cover that same population, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs for the first three years, then phase down to 90 percent.
LaBeau said his organization is intrigued by a program that’s been approved as a demonstration project in Arkansas, where the state will take the federal Medicaid expansion funds and use them instead to purchase private insurance for those individuals. “It’s more of a private-sector solution,” he said, adding that Iowa has a similar program awaiting approval. “We certainly think it’s worth taking a look at,” he said.
Last year, Idaho lawmakers declined to take any action on the issue.
Nearly 120,000 Washington residents have completed applications for health insurance through the state’s insurance exchange, a federal report revealed today, and more than 10,500 Idahoans have completed applications through their state’s exchange. Those numbers are far higher than the numbers who have selected the plan they want to enroll in through the exchanges – 7,091 in Washington and 338 in Idaho. But they do show that thousands in both states have made their way through the application process, despite initial glitches, particularly with the federal computer system that Idaho’s relied on. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Nationally, just 106,185 individuals have selected and enrolled in plans through exchanges, but more than 1.5 million have completed applications, 1.08 million of those were deemed eligible for exchange plans, and 326,130 qualified for new federal subsidies.
Board members of the Idaho health insurance exchange said Tuesday that they will keep secret the findings of a $15,000 taxpayer-funded investigation into how one of its own members won a lucrative no-bid contract, the Associated Press reports. Your Health Idaho board chairman Stephen Weeg said the two-week-long review by a private lawyer uncovered “lapses in judgment,” though nothing illegal. Exchange executive director Amy Dowd last month awarded a technology contract worth up to $375,000 to board member Frank Chan, who quit the same day the contract was announced.
Dowd gave Chan the contract without advertising it or allowing others to compete. It was later canceled after House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, joined critics who called Dowd's deal with an exchange insider “indefensible.” Boise lawyer Frederick Mack was hired to scrutinize the deal. He presented his report Tuesday during a three-hour, closed-door exchange board meeting at the Idaho Capitol.
“The key finding was: We violated no law, that lapses of judgment were made around the procurement policy and conflict-of-interest policy,” Weeg said following the meeting. “He had recommendations for us to move forward as an organization.” However, Weeg said the public will never be able to see Mack's recommendations or findings. “It deals with personnel, and it's done under attorney-client privilege,” said Weeg, a retired Pocatello health care industry executive who heads up the volunteer board. He declined to detail the judgment lapses Mack found or who committed them; click below for the full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Yourhealthidaho.org, Idaho’s state health insurance exchange, is not planning to raise its fee per health plan from the current 1.5 percent level, executive director Amy Dowd told lawmakers this morning. “There has been some confusion on this issue based on work that my staff engaged in to fulfill some reporting requirements recently,” Dowd told the Idaho Legislature’s Health Care Task Force. “We are required to evaluate a full range of possibilities and what-if scenarios. Some of those projections contemplated a far higher rate. In no way was that evaluation a proposal for the future. In Idaho, we can, and are expected, to run a system more efficiently than the federal government. I understand that the expectation is that we run the exchange at a 1.5 percent fee.”
Idaho’s health insurance exchange executive director, Amy Dowd, told lawmakers this morning that the state won’t get any numbers from the feds on how many Idahoans have enrolled in health insurance through the exchange until the end of November; she had earlier said she expected to have figures by this week. “We do know that there are Idahoans enrolling,” she told the Legislature’s Health Care Task Force.
Dowd told the lawmakers, “Your Health Idaho is doing two things right now: One, we are preventing federal intervention in Idaho, and two, we are providing a much-needed resource for thousands of Idahoans looking for insurance.” She said Idaho’s exchange is relying on the federal technology platform for its first year. “At the federal level, we all know it is not working,” she said. “We were not notified in advance… Your Health Idaho has had to quickly respond to the federal failure.”
Though she’s received no specifics, Dowd said she’d heard that last-minute changes prior to the rollout cased the failures. Idaho is in the middle of a request for proposals process for its own technology platform, which Dowd said should be up by fall of 2014. In the meantime, the Your Health Idaho board has directed Dowd to develop a tool where Idahoans can shop anonymously on the yourhealthidaho.org website and compare plans, without first setting up an account and submitting all their information. Dowd said the exchange is looking into developing such a tool, but it likely will take four to six weeks; in the meantime, it’s posted an online booklet with all plan information. That booklet is lengthy, but it’s a useful tool for brokers and agents to be able to access, she said. An Idaho-specific calculator will be posted on the site later this week, she said, to help Idahoans determine how much they might qualify for in subsidies.
Until all the technology works, Dowd said, Idahoans who go to yourhealthidaho.org can complete paper applications and get help over the phone.
Idaho's insurance exchange board backed new rules Wednesday meant to keep insiders from profiting inappropriately from ties to the Internet health care marketplace, the AP reports, in the wake of a now-canceled no-bid contract with a former board member. The board decided that members who leave the volunteer panel appointed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter must wait at least 12 months before securing paid work with the exchange unless two-thirds of the panel votes to waive that restriction. “I think it's appropriate,” said state Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell and an exchange board member; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he wants a delay in the individual mandate to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, to allow Idaho's insurance exchange to get its own technology platform up and running, rather than piggybacking on the troubled federal tech site. “Of all the challenges we’re facing with Idaho’s state-based health insurance exchange, none have been more disappointing than the chorus of those who attribute each setback to cronyism or conspiracy, and those whose most constructive criticism is 'I told you so,'” Otter wrote in a statement distributed to Idaho news media today. “When we run into a problem, Idahoans fix it. When we encounter difficulties, Idahoans overcome them. We always have, and we’re working hard to do the same in this case.”
Click below for Otter's full statement. He writes, “The technology consulting contract awarded to a former Exchange board member was expeditiously and correctly voided last week. Yes, it should never have happened to begin with, but when it did the process worked.” Then he says he wrote to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, requesting the delay. “They say the first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging. Folks, we can stay mired in the would have/could have/should have of this situation and let our partisan or philosophical petulance overtake us, or we can focus instead on climbing out of this hole and asserting our Idaho independence and sovereignty by finishing the job we started last winter,” Otter writes. “I choose to climb.”
Billboards bashing Idaho legislators for their votes on a state insurance exchange have begun popping up in their legislative districts. Idaho Freedom Foundation chief Wayne Hoffman says the signs are part of his group’s lobbying campaign to get Idaho’s exchange repealed in the legislative session that starts in January, but others say the effort appears aimed at Idaho’s upcoming 2014 elections, in which every seat in the Idaho Legislature will be on the ballot.
“That looks a lot more like campaigning than lobbying to me,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics. “It’s not a traditional way of lobbying the Legislature to use billboards – in fact, I’m hard-pressed to give an example of that.” Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, who is among those targeted by name on the signs, said he views his local billboard – which is right near the hospital where he practices medicine – as an “effort to try to gin up a political opponent” for him in May’s GOP primary. “I think that’s what it’s designed to do, to be very blunt about it,” he said. “It’s political advertising.”
Hoffman, whose organization, a tax-exempt charity, is prohibited by law from engaging in campaigning, said, “We don’t get involved in elections – this has nothing to do with elections. It has to do with public policy.” He added, “They are a vehicle for lobbying lawmakers as well as the general public on an issue that will be before the Legislature in the 2014 legislative session.” Wood countered, “They push that envelope all the time.”
Two of the billboards have gone up so far; Hoffman said more are in the works. The first, in Burley, targets Wood, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley; and Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. The second, in Mountain Home, names Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, and Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s Idaho insurance exchange board action, immediately ending a no-bid contract that was awarded to a former board member last week, forbidding issuance of any contract for more than $15,000 without board approval, and commissioning an independent review of what happened. Said board member Jim Rice, “I think we’ve made some progress on getting to where we need to be.” Board Chairman Stephen Weeg said, “We’ve operated under a crisis mode for five months, and it’s time to stop and take a breath.”
Last week, former board member Frank Chan, head of the exchange board’s technology committee, was awarded a $375,000 no-bid contract with the exchange to oversee tech vendors, and resigned from the board the same day. The choice of a replacement for Chan on the board is up to Gov. Butch Otter.
Idaho’s health insurance exchange board, after an hour and a half closed-door executive session to discuss personnel matters, returned to open session and voted unanimously this afternoon to commission an independent review of what happened when a no-bid contract was awarded to a board member who then resigned. “We will be working to find an attorney to do that review for us,” Board Chairman Stephen Weeg said after the meeting, “to look at what happened, and how that might have happened, and what recommendations they would make for us as an organization.”
The motion was made by board member Jim Rice and seconded by board member Hyatt Erstad. Weeg said the board wants to do better. “We’ve operated under a crisis mode for five months, and it’s time to stop and take a breath,” he said.
The exchange’s executive director, Amy Dowd, awarded the $375,000 contract last week to board member Frank Chan, who then resigned from the board. Yesterday, Chan agreed to cancel the contract and offered to work with the board on IT issues over the next month, but at its meeting today, the board declined that offer, ending all work under the contract immediately. It also voted to require that in the future, any contract for more than $15,000 be brought to the board for approval.
“It was a long, deliberate, informed, civil discussion,” Weeg said. The board is scheduled to meet again Oct. 30. Weeg said it hopes to receive the review from the attorney in executive session. Asked if the results then will be made public, Weeg said, “I think I will have to see what those findings say before I can give you a definitive answer.”
Idaho’s health insurance exchange board has voted to forbid issuance of any contract for more than $15,000 without board approval, filling in blanks in the exchange’s interim procurement policy that set no limit – and allowed board Executive Director Amy Dowd to issue a now-cancelled no-bid $375,000 contract to a board member last week. “If an expenditure is to exceed that, that will be brought before the board to make a decision,” said board member Hyatt Erstad, who made the motion. “It’s not designed to hamstring. It’s designed to allow us additional accountability,” he said. “That could be adjusted on a going-forward basis.”
Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, said, “I think we’re moving in the right direction. I like the idea of having an interim dollar amount to put in those blanks,” while the exchange finalizes its overall procurement policies. Erstad’s motion also required that the final procurement policy – addressing a series of other details about contracting, sole-source contracts and required reviews – be presented to the board for approval by its next meeting. The board approved the motion unanimously.
Idaho health insurance exchange board member Kevin Settles lauded former board member Frank Chan for the time, effort and expertise he offered to the board before his resignation last week, as he was awarded a now-canceled, $375,000 no-bid contract. “I thought that he was a tremendous benefit for the board and really appreciate him,” Settles said. He expressed hope in “the possibility of extending a contract with him in a better fashion,” and added, “I just feel bad for Frank, and for all of us. But we shouldn’t dogpile on it.”
Board member Jim Rice, a Caldwell state senator, countered, “Negotiation of the contract prior to the resignation – Idahoans don’t see that as appropriate, we just don’t. … It’s part of being a fiduciary.” He said, “I think that from here, we can’t contract with him. … We have to deal with reality, and reality is that I don’t think we can do further business with Frank, in spite of the fact that he did volunteer a lot of his personal time while he was on the board and went above and beyond. It was something that was very commendable. … I don’t think it is something where we can just say we’re going to ignore that going forward. We can’t. There’s a lot of realities that come with this particular entity that don’t exist with other entities.”
Board member Tom Shores said the process was flawed. “There should have been some alarms going off,” he said. “All those things should have occurred and didn’t occur.”
Board Chairman Stephen Weeg said, “My hindsight says that in some ways our desire for expediency overcame … our desire for good governance. … So we made a decision, a decision was made regarding hiring one of our board members … and it created a major mess for us, there’s no way to ignore that fact. So we need to look at that as a board.”
“We’re all in this together,” Weeg said. “We could spend time trying to figure out who did what wrong, and I’ll take some of the blame for that. The governor appointed me to chair this board and the governor can decide if I still have his full faith and confidence, and I’ll need to talk to him about that. But I think the goal today is to say we have a huge challenge, we have a significant issue that we need to address and do better together. … We’ve been pressed by time from the get-go. We’ve probably taken some shortcuts that have caused us to stumble.”
Former Idaho health insurance exchange board member Frank Chan, who last week was awarded a no-bid, $375,000 IT contract with the exchange and then resigned from the board, has now “exercised his right to cancel the contract,” exchange board Chairman Stephen Weeg announced this morning, at the opening of the exchange board meeting. “There’s a 30-day cancellation clause in that,” Weeg said.
Amy Dowd, exchange executive director, said, “I made the decision to contract with Applied Computing because they have the background and experience needed for this challenge. The questions that have been raised indicate this decision should have been made in a different way. … I understand the scrutiny we are under. I appreciate the concerns that have been expressed this week. … I have learned from this process.”
Two state lawmakers who serve on the Idaho health insurance exchange board are calling for voiding the no-bid contract awarded last week to board member Frank Chan, who then resigned from the board, the AP reports. The contract called for Chan to be paid $180 an hour, up to $375,000, to oversee the exchange's technology vendors; he formerly headed the board's technology committee. Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, told the AP, “When somebody is going behind everyone's back, negotiating a contract for themselves at $180 an hour when they've got current contracts with the state at $95, I don't think that's even ethical. It's not in the interest of the citizens of Idaho and it's a violation of the fiduciary obligation of a member of the board.” Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, said, “Things have been out of control because we were in a hurry. It's time to have a longer thought process, to get things back in line.” The board meets this morning at 11.
Exchange board to meet Tuesday to discuss procurement, after flap over no-bid contract with board member
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's insurance exchange board meets Tuesday to discuss how it buys services after state lawmakers criticized a $375,000 no-bid contract awarded to one of its members. The Your Health Idaho exchange board meets at 11 a.m. to discuss its procurement process. On Friday, House Speaker Scott Bedke called it “indefensible” for exchange director Amy Dowd to give board member Frank Chan a big technology contract without advertising it publicly or letting others bid. Chan quit the board Wednesday after getting the contract. Though Dowd insists she has the authority to award contracts like the one with Chan, the exchange is operating under only a “draft” procurement policy that doesn't specify when bidding must be competitive. The board said in May it would finalize that policy. That's so far not happened.
Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke said Friday that it was “indefensible” for the state's health insurance exchange to award a no-bid contract worth up to $375,000 to one of its own board members, the AP reports, who then resigned from the board. Bedke, R-Oakley, told the Associated Press, “It was wrong. … I'm very troubled by what has happened. I understand the board is going to revisit this issue, and I'm willing at this point to let the board do its job. The public has a right to have confidence in all governmental processes, including this one.”
Board member Frank Chan resigned from the board Wednesday, when the deal to give him a $180 per hour contract to oversee a technology project was announced; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
A tea party legislative candidate from Canyon County has become the target of national online derision, the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey reports, after news surfaced that while he opposes Obamacare and will pay a penalty rather than participate, he has 10 kids on Medicaid, the government-funded health care program for the poor and disabled. “I attracted all the attention of all the people who hate Republicans and the tea party,” Greg Collett, a 41-year-old freelance software developer and University of Idaho alum, told Popkey. “I've also attracted the attention of a lot of people in the liberty movement that don't want to see anybody on welfare.” Things got so bad, Collett said, he had to clean up his Facebook account and remove contact information from his campaign website.
The two-time GOP legislative candidate, who’s planning to run again, made the news because he was one of 1,503 people who answered a Kaiser/NBC poll in September about attitudes about the Affordable Care Act, and he told the pollsters he'd be willing to talk to a reporter. He ended up as the first person quoted in an Oct. 4 NBC story, “Health care holdouts: uninsured but resisting.” It went viral.
“I'm OK taking whatever I can from the government that's available to me,” Collett told Popkey. “I'm not going to lie and scam the system, but I'm OK with redirecting that money away from morally reprehensible things and direct it towards me.” Popkey’s full report is online here, along with links to some of the national stories and Collett's online response.
A board member of the Idaho health insurance exchange quit Wednesday, the same day the exchange awarded his company a no-bid contract worth up to $375,000, the Associated Press reports. Frank Chan resigned from the Your Health Idaho board to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest, board members said. Chan's company, Boise-based Applied Computing, will serve as the exchange's information technology consultant; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Earlier this year, Miller reports, Chan was appointed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to help oversee the Internet marketplace created under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. It allows people to shop for insurance and learn if they qualify for federal subsidies. He had been technology chairman of the 19-member volunteer board. Chan will now earn $180 an hour to oversee the exchange's technology vendors as it works to replace a glitch-filled federal software system with one that's state-based by next year. The exchange is seeking a $50 million, taxpayer-funded grant from the federal government to pay for that project.
Idaho's state health insurance exchange, Yourhealthidaho.org, has been touting the big savings it offers Idahoans over a federal exchange, since its fee on policies has been set at just 1.5 percent, compared to 3.5 percent for federally run exchanges. But the Associated Press reports that emails obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law show exchange officials have been discussing a possible hike in that fee to 2.6 percent by 2016, to meet requirements that the exchange be self-sustaining by then. That would still offer savings compared to a federal exchange, but would be significantly higher than the current fee, cutting into the amount of savings for Idahoans.
Exchange finance chief Pat Kelly planned a presentation to the exchange's finance committee in early September on the possible fee hike, but executive director Amy Dowd canceled it, saying the numbers were too preliminary to be ready for public consumption. “The reason we weren't comfortable publishing 2.6 percent is, we have no clue what the number is going to be,” Dowd told the AP. “We've done some modeling, we've got some data, but as far as our comfort level, putting a number out today is not a wise decision.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Idaho’s new health insurance exchange still is seeing frustrating computer system delays, but it’s accomplishing its other goals, state lawmakers heard this morning: In-state people are taking the calls from consumers, the state’s Department of Insurance is regulating the plans offered, and buyers are being referred to Idaho insurance agents and brokers. Plus, Idahoans should save millions over the coming year, compared to the cost of letting the federal government run its exchange. That’s because buyers of plans on federally run exchanges pay a 3.5 percent fee to cover the cost of the exchange; Idaho’s fee is just 1.5 percent. The Legislature’s joint Health Care Task Force heard a report on the exchange’s progress at its meeting today; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho’s premiums through its new state health insurance exchange so far are coming in below the average, Joy Wilson, director of health and human services policy for the National Conference of State Legislatures, told Idaho lawmakers this morning. “The rates vary tremendously from state to state,” Wilson told the Legislature’s joint Health Care Task Force. She offered some figures for a 27-year-old, before any tax credits: For the lowest “bronze” level benefit plan, the average was $163 a month; Idaho’s rate is $150. For the lowest silver plan, average was $203, Idaho’s is $182; and for the lowest gold-level plan, average is $240 and Idaho’s rate is $211. For catastrophic plans, Idaho was slightly above the average for a 27-year-old, at $134, compared to $129.
Alaska and Wyoming have the highest rates, Wilson said, because “they’re people-challenged – they don’t have a lot of people, so there’s not a lot of competition. And their rates reflect that.” She said, “We’ll have to see where rates go over time. … Insurers are being cautious. Most of them are staying in markets that they’re familiar with, they’re not branching out.”
Wilson told lawmakers the initial comparisons show “you come out pretty well, actually, in terms of your rates. And this will make a difference, of course, in terms of your take-up. Rates are going to be very important, particularly to the young people.”
After two days of operation of Idaho's health insurance exchange, Executive Director Amy Dowd is offering this advice to those who are experiencing delays once they hit the federal application website, to which they're routed from Idaho's Yourhealthidaho.org site: “For those who may be having difficulty, when you get to the healthcare.gov application, you may see a 'holding page' for a few minutes before you enter the application process. If you're at the holding page, do not refresh your browser or leave the page. If you do, you will lose your place in the virtual line to get into the application.”
Dowd said Idaho's Yourhealthidaho.org site had 18,000 unique visitors its first day alone. In the first two days, Idaho's call center took more than 800 calls and answered more than 100 emails.
“Due to the high volume of interest, our application through healthcare.gov has been experiencing longer than expected processing times,” she said. “We know that this is frustrating, but we really appreciate everyone’s patience. We have heard that Idahoans are getting through and that applications are processing.” Click below for Dowd's full statement.
Things are busy at Idaho’s health insurance exchange today as enrollment opens, but the system hasn’t crashed as several other state exchanges around the country have reported. Instead, there are slowdowns, but everything’s functioning, and the state’s in-person assistants and insurance agents and brokers have been able to access the system. “It really is a higher volume than I think a lot of people may have thought, but it’s a positive response at this point,” said Alberto Gonzalez, operations manager for the Idaho exchange, Yourhealthidaho.org.
Ten workers at a temporary Boise call center have been taking calls non-stop all morning; Gonzalez said the average wait time has been only a minute and a half, with the longest wait at 5 minutes. “I think we’re handling the calls pretty well,” he said. Across the state, 120 in-person assisters have been trained to help people navigate the exchange, including figuring out what kind of help they may be eligible for, and how to compare and choose health insurance plans. Callers or visitors to the website can be referred to in-person assisters, agents or brokers in their area.
Idaho’s exchange website, for now, routes applicants to the federal exchange website for signups, but the state is developing its own. “We could not get the technology in place in just a few months,” Gonzalez said. But he said by a year from now, in October of 2014, “We’ll be on a full state-based exchange technology.”
Exchange officials stressed that whether people sign up today or any time between now and Dec. 15, coverage will start Jan. 1.
Idaho’s state health insurance exchange opens Tuesday, allowing about 200,000 uninsured Idahoans to begin enrolling in health insurance plans; the coverage starts Jan. 1. Amy Dowd, a health care consultant hired in April to run Idaho’s exchange, told the AP’s John Miller, “We don't have a set target we're expecting for enrollment. Our goals for our open enrollment period are to educate, get the word out that this is available.” Click below for Miller’s full report on the exchange startup, including a by-the-numbers roundup of costs, salaries, carriers, where to call and more.
Meanwhile, S-R reporter John Webster has a report here on the health care reform law changes and what they mean for you, whether you’re on Medicare or Medicaid, insured through your employer, have individual coverage now or are uninsured.
1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador announced today that he is co-sponsoring a resolution introduced today by Rep. Tom Graves, R-Georgia, to avert a government shutdown Oct. 1 only if President Obama's health care law is both de-funded and its individual mandate to purchase insurance delayed for a year. “If there’s any single issue that can unite House Republicans and has the strong support of the American people, it’s getting rid of ObamaCare,” Labrador declared. “The resolution I’m cosponsoring will keep the government open while keeping overall spending at the same rate the Senate has already agreed to through the sequester. House Leadership should bring it to the floor for a vote. If the House passes it and the Senate rejects it, it will be the Senate that’s responsible for shutting down the government. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, but House Republicans must seize this opportunity to keep our promises to the American people on ObamaCare.”
Click below for Labrador's full news release. Meanwhile, President Obama, in a White House speech yesterday, blasted House Republicans who are taking that position, saying, “I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can't get 100% of what it wants.” In his speech, which House GOP leaders criticized as partisan, Obama asked, “Are some of these folks so beholden to one extreme wing of their party that they're willing to tank our whole economy?”
Idaho’s state health insurance exchange announced today that it will offer 161 health insurance plans at various coverage levels, from eight providers, when it opens for business Jan. 1; enrollment starts Oct 1. The selection will include 76 individual health plans, 55 small-group health plans for small businesses, 13 individual dental plans and 17 small-group dental plans. “We are pleased that our Idaho insurance companies have offered plenty of plans to choose from,” said state Department of Insurance Director Bill Deal. “We encourage Idahoans to visit Yourhealthidaho.org and speak with a producer or in-person assister to learn more about their options.”
The exchange will allow eligible Idahoans – those who don’t already have employer-provided health coverage, and who fit certain income guidelines – to shop, compare and enroll in the various plans, and access government subsidies, if they qualify, to help offset their costs. Monthly premiums, before any subsidies, will range from a low of $160 for an individual to a high of $1,098 for a family of four. You can read the exchange’s full announcement here.