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Eye On Boise

Idaho won’t run high-risk insurance pool, would rather feds did it

Gov. Butch Otter announced yesterday that Idaho will join more than a dozen other states in "opting out" of a requirement under the new national health care reform legislation to set up a new "high risk pool" for uninsured residents with pre-existing conditions. Idaho already has a high-risk pool, which serves about 1,500 people, but it charges rates 25 percent higher than standard insurance. The new pool would serve thousands more and charge only standard rates.

"Put simply, Idaho cannot afford to subsidize a second high-risk pool program, especially during these difficult economic times," Otter said in a press release. He said, "Somebody will have to pay for that subsidy, and it's going to be taxpayers." You can click below to read the governor's full announcement, and read a Washington Post/Idaho Statesman story here that adds national perspective, including that Idaho is one of 18 states opting out. It also notes that the federal government plans to pay for the pools whether they're run by states or not, so Idaho's decision means the feds would operate the pool for Idaho.

C.L. “Butch” Otter

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                 
May 4, 2010                                                                                             


(BOISE) – Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter has notified U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius that Idaho will not be implementing a new temporary High Risk Pool program under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 – the new federal healthcare reform law.

 Idaho is among 15 states that have officially opted out of the federal High Risk Pool program, including Wyoming and Nevada, and Utah’s governor has expressed concerns as well. In a letter to Sebelius, Governor Otter wrote, “Put simply, Idaho cannot afford to subsidize a second high-risk pool program, especially during these difficult economic times.”

The federal High Risk Pool is aimed at helping uninsured people with pre-existing health conditions obtain coverage, but only until 2014. Estimates prepared by the Idaho Department of Insurance indicate that the $24 million allocated for Idaho in the federal healthcare reform plan would provide only a month or two of coverage for the approximately 33,400 individuals who may qualify – even though it’s a four-year program that will be implemented and administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The state’s existing, permanent high-risk pool already serves about 1,500 people. Governor Otter said one of his concerns with the federal program is that it would immediately provide coverage at standard rates for individuals with pre-existing conditions, even though individuals with pre-existing conditions who are enrolled in Idaho’s high-risk pool pay premiums 25 percent above standard rates. In other words, the federal program’s pricing disparity will penalize Idahoans who have been sacrificing and doing the right thing by enrolling in Idaho’s high-risk pool, and as a result are ineligible to participate in the federal plan.  

“Somebody will have to pay for that subsidy, and it’s going to be taxpayers,” Governor Otter said. “We continue to question the constitutionality of this law and remain concerned about the cost imposed on the citizens of Idaho. We aren’t the only ones who have decided we just can’t afford this costly federal mandate.”

While the Department of Insurance lacks the additional staff and resources to administer another high-risk pool, Director Bill Deal said the agency still is required by the federal healthcare reform law to research, plan and implement a permanent health insurance exchange intended to help Idahoans and small business owners obtain health coverage.


Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.