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Eye On Boise

Average price for policy under Idaho’s new health insurance exchange: $240 a month

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Health coverage policies sold via Idaho's insurance exchange will cost an average of $240 per month, a figure based on the price tag of proposed policies submitted to the state Department of Insurance by insurers aiming to participate. The figure, announced Thursday in Boise by the exchange board, is merely an average. It doesn't reflect rates policy holders will actually pay, depending on their financial circumstances, eligibility for federal subsidies or their benefits package. But it offers a first glimpse of how President Barack Obama's plan to provide health insurance coverage to more Americans may impact thousands of Idaho residents' pocketbooks. State insurance regulators are now reviewing insurers' proposed policies. The exchange aims to begin enrolling participants Oct. 1, with coverage starting Jan. 1, as required by the 2010 law.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho exchange board: Average policy costs $240
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Health insurance policies sold via Idaho's insurance exchange starting Jan. 1 will cost around $240 monthly, a figure based on packages submitted so far to the state Department of Insurance by insurers aiming to participate.

The figure, announced Thursday at an Idaho Insurance Exchange board meeting in Boise, is an average and doesn't reflect actual costs for individual policy holders. That will depend on their financial circumstances, age and the benefits package they choose via the exchange, the federally mandated Internet portal where individuals and businesses with fewer than 50 employees may purchase coverage.

But it offers a first glimpse of how President Barack Obama's plan to provide health insurance coverage to more Americans will impact thousands of Idaho residents' pocketbooks. Exchange board chairman Stephen Weeg predicted people will have a multitude of coverage choices. The deadline to begin enrolling participants is Oct. 1.

"The good news is, there are a number of plans," Weeg said.

Specific details of policies won't be released until after July 31, the deadline for Idaho's Department of Insurance to submit the policies to the federal government for review. But a few guidelines are known.

For instance, a family of four making $60,000 headed by a 40-year-old would likely be eligible for a government tax credit of $7,193 toward their annual premium of $12,130. That means they'd pay $4,937, about 8 percent of their income, or $410 monthly. Meanwhile, lower-income families would make lower payments, with help from the government's sliding-scale subsidies provided for those who earn less than 400 percent of the poverty line.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, who is a member of the 19-person exchange board, said people's ages will help set their monthly costs, too.

"There will be advantages for older people," Rusche said, compared to individual coverage plans they can purchase now on the open market.

But premiums likely will be "slightly higher for younger, healthier people," compared to open market plans, he said.

It's unclear how many people will eventually use Idaho's exchange, but the Department of Insurance estimates 190,000 residents will be eligible. Some 102,000 people from this group currently have no insurance.

About 88,000 already have insurance through individual plans, as opposed to coverage offered through Idaho companies or government. But as many as three-quarters of those in this group, roughly 66,000 people, may be eligible for the federal subsidies, making them more likely to switch to a policy sold via the exchange.

Given this uncertainty, the exchange board on Thursday voted to assess a 1.5 percent fee on each policy sold over Idaho's exchange, in hopes of raising $10 million needed annually for exchange operations to be self-sufficient once federal assistance ends in 2016.

They left open the possibility of altering the fee after 2014, depending on how many enroll and the actual cost of running the exchange, to make sure there's sufficient cash.

"The number we're shooting for is really all over the place," said Tom Shores, a Boise insurance agent and board member.

The main thing, exchange board members said Thursday, was setting Idaho's fee at a level less than the 3.5 percent-per-policy charge the federal government plans for 27 states that have opted to have the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services run an insurance exchange for them.

Idaho's ability to operate an exchange more cheaply than the federal government was a key selling point for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter during the 2013 Legislature when he pushed reluctant lawmakers to adopt a state-based exchange, as opposed to a federal version he said would leave Idaho with too little say in its operations.

"There were over a dozen areas we were told we'd be able to maintain state control over, with a state exchange," said Jon Hanian, Otter's spokesman, on Friday. "That's why the governor pursued this, as the least-worst option."

AT A GLANCE - Key developments

The Idaho Insurance Exchange board's 19 members and new executive director, Amy Dowd, have moving quickly to meet key federal deadlines: Oct. 1, when they'll have to begin enrolling participants, and Jan. 1, when coverage is required to begin under President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Here are a few key developments, as of this week:

— FEDERAL GRANTS: The federal government is shifting taxpayer money to Idaho to build its exchange, and Dowd said the arrival of a $20.3 million installment for initial work is imminent, according to her contacts at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

— STAFFING BOOSTED: Dowd has boosted her staff to five people, including a marketing director, Jody Olson, who the exchange lured away from a similar role at the Alberta Bair Theater in Billings, Mont.; and operations manager Alberto Gonzalez, a former bureau chief at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Both start Monday.

— CONTRACTS: Exchange meetings have been populated by dozens of lobbyists, from private companies aiming to win lucrative pieces of building the Idaho's insurance exchange. On Thursday, exchange board members gave Dowd approval to begin negotiations with finalists vying for two contracts, one for outreach and education and the other for professional services.

— WHAT WILL THE WINNERS DO? An outreach contractor's duties will include developing a statewide ad campaign to educate Idaho residents about the exchange; meanwhile, the winner of the professional services contract will assist Dowd in the exchange's start-up phase, including procuring additional federal grants and helping oversee development of the system enrollees will use to select coverage and determine their eligibility for federal, income-dependent subsidies.

— NO PERMANENT PHONES, EMAILS — YET: Dowd, named the exchange leader only in April, has been based out of a Boise law firm and has yet to get a permanent office phone or e-mail. But she said Friday that's planned for next week.

— REIGN OF CHAOS? The challenge, exchange board chairman Stephen Weeg, said, will be meeting all the federal deadlines with a small organization built from scratch since just April. "Two months ago, we were nothing," Weeg said. "Ninety days from now, chaos will reign... We have 90 days to mitigate the chaos."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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