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News >  Idaho

Idaho must rely on feds’ site in first year

Late start means state won’t meet deadline

The Idaho Legislature will not get its wish for a health insurance exchange website built by and for Idahoans. Not in the first year, anyway.

The Legislature’s decision simply came too late.

Federal law requires creation of a marketplace for health insurance coverage by Oct. 1 for every state. If states don’t do it, the law says, the federal government will.

But it takes time to develop a website with the security features required to accept and verify the confidential information people must enter when signing up for federally subsidized health coverage. Social Security numbers, for instance. Adjusted gross income from the most recent tax return. Names and ages of family members. Account numbers to be used in paying for the insurance.

In Washington, an online insurance marketplace was authorized in May 2011. Deloitte Consulting LLP, the contractor hired to build Washington’s website, began work 19 months ago. Since then the developers have rolled out several versions, held demos, collected feedback from agencies and insurance carriers, fine-tuned functionality for accuracy and ease of use, checked the explanatory text for compliance with policy, and tested for security.

In a few weeks, now that several Washington insurance carriers have won regulatory approval to sell policies on the site, their rates and policy details – involving blizzards of numbers – will be added and the whole package will be tested for accuracy.

But in Idaho, it was March 28 this year, after a lengthy debate and years of opposition, that legislators passed a law calling for an Idaho-built insurance exchange.

In the opening paragraphs of Idaho’s law, legislators took a last shot at Obamacare: “It is the public policy of the state of Idaho to actively resist federal actions that would limit or override state sovereignty under the 10th amendment of the United States Constitution. The creation of a state-based health insurance exchange will provide an Idaho-specific solution that fits the unique needs of the state of Idaho. … The board shall, to the fullest extent practicable, enter into contracts with businesses conducting business in Idaho and employing citizens of this state.”

On July 26, shortly after getting its board appointed and hiring a few staff members, Idaho’s brand-new exchange awarded a contract to begin work on its insurance marketplace. The winning contractor? Public Consulting Group, based in Boston.

According to Jody Olson, the spokesman for Idaho’s exchange, for 2014 Idaho will rely on the federal government’s exchange site, Idaho’s new contract calls for the Boston firm to put an Idaho “skin” on Idaho’s section of the federal site.

Skin, Olson said, means the Web pages will feature a few pictures of Idaho and some Idaho-selected colors.

The federal site also has been supplied with software that Idaho developed over the past few years, at federal expense, to allow online applications for Medicaid in compliance with Idaho’s unique Medicaid eligibility rules. In the past, it has not been possible for Idaho residents to sign up for Medicaid online.

Finally, Olson said, her agency intends as soon as possible to deploy some informational Web pages of its own, answering questions about the new agency and its services. However, Olson said, the URL for these Idaho-built Web pages has not been finalized.

About a year from now, for insurance policies to be sold for 2015, the Idaho exchange hopes its contractor will have completed the website for Idaho insurance buyers, including the security features. Then, Olson said, it no longer will be necessary for Idaho to rely on the federal site for its subsidized health insurance sales.

The cost of setting up Idaho’s exchange will also be borne by Uncle Sam. So far, Idaho’s exchange has been awarded a $20.3 million federal startup grant, and it can apply for additional grants in the future.

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