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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho health plan set for comment

Members of the public will have an opportunity next week to voice their opinions about Idaho’s plan to set up a health insurance exchange, the federally mandated marketplace designed to help people and small businesses shop for and evaluate insurance plans at competitive prices.

Representatives of the state’s Insurance Department are traveling the state to gather feedback in anticipation of a decision from the Legislature on whether to approve implementing the exchange. That decision would also include whether to approve spending authority for the $20.7 million federal grant the state recently received to set up the exchange.

If Idaho doesn’t set up an exchange itself, the federal government will step in and establish one for it, said Bill Deal, director of the state Insurance Department. Idaho is one of 26 states suing to overturn national health care reform law.

In past news reports, House Speaker Lawerence Denney said he had mixed feelings about the topic and it was certain to generate a “very serious discussion.”

Deal said federal law requires that the state’s program be accredited by Jan. 1, 2013, with the exchange up and running by Jan. 1, 2014.

If implementation legislation is not passed, he said, “based on the short time frame to be accredited one year from now, Idaho will have no choice other than to start gearing up for the federal plan,” Deal said. Four levels of plans would be offered under the exchange. States across the country are waiting for the federal Department of Health and Human Services to determine what benefits will be required under each plan, he said.

At the exchange, people’s eligibility for coverage would be determined based on income level. Those whose income is at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level would qualify for Medicaid. Those making less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level – $89,400 for a family of four – would be eligible for at least some amount of subsidy. Deal said some 70 percent of Idaho residents would fall into that category.

Those making more money than that would also be welcome to evaluate the options provided through the exchange.