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Eye on Boise: Interim YourHealthIdaho director now permanent

Idaho’s state health insurance exchange, YourHealthIdaho, has named a new executive director: Pat Kelly, the former finance director for the exchange who was named interim executive director in July.

“Pat has been with us since the very beginning and has a deep understanding of our commitment to our customers and to our state,” said Stephen Weeg, board chairman for the exchange. “After a very competitive nationwide search, we realized we already had the right leader in place.”

Kelly replaces Amy Dowd, who left in July to head New Mexico’s state health insurance exchange.

Prior to joining the exchange, he was a Boise businessman, working in telecommunications, manufacturing and business consulting. He is the former chief financial officer of Transform Solar, a joint venture between Micron Technology and Origin Energy.

Weeg said, “Pat has kept YourHealthIdaho on track during a critical time. We are less than two months away from launching our own technology platform. It has been a challenging process but Pat has been able to bring key stakeholders to the table to ensure we take care of our customers when open enrollment starts on Nov. 15.”

YourHealthIdaho hasn’t yet set Kelly’s salary; Dowd made $175,000. As interim director, Kelly’s salary was set at $150,000 a year.

Last week, the YourHealthIdaho board approved nine companies to offer health or dental insurance plans through the exchange in the coming year, from Blue Cross of Idaho, PacificSource and SelectHealth to Delta Dental of Idaho. More than 76,000 Idahoans already have enrolled in insurance plans through the exchange.

Luna on successor …

Outgoing GOP state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, who has not endorsed either candidate in the race to succeed him, said, “It’s likely or possible that a Democrat could win this race – I don’t think that’s news to anyone.”

Republican Sherri Ybarra and Democrat Jana Jones are vying to succeed him.

Luna said he met recently with GOP nominee Ybarra, the first time he’d talked with her. “She ran a very nontraditional campaign in the primary. I’m assuming she’s taking a similar approach in the general,” he said. “But I will tell you that having met her and talked with her, I think she can win, but more people are going to have to get to know her the same way I have. And I’ve only got to know her recently.”

Luna compared Ybarra’s prospects to his own first run for the position, when he lost, but came back four years later and won, “because I had a network in place, I had name ID built.” He said, “It’s not uncommon for a Democrat to hold this position. … I don’t think anyone would assume that this will be a cakewalk for a Republican.”

Luna, who has served two terms as state superintendent and is the first non-educator to hold the post, said, “I think I have accomplished a lot, and it hasn’t been without controversy, obviously. But I think we have accomplished a lot and I leave office pleased with the results that we’ve seen.” He pointed to improvements in technology in Idaho schools, high school students taking college-level courses, increasing numbers of charter schools and changes in how teachers are compensated to include factors beyond education and years of experience. “I specifically ran on those things, and we’ve accomplished them,” Luna said. “The bottom line is by every academic measure, our schools and our students are doing better than they were eight years ago when I came into office.”

He said, “I hope the next state superintendent is looking to make a difference and not make a career. I hope they’re bold. I hope they’ll stand up to people that support them and work with people that don’t. It won’t be easy … but it’ll be the most rewarding experience of their life. That’s how I feel about my time in office.”

Not actually Basque

When the little-known Ybarra won a four-way GOP primary race, some speculation focused on her Basque-sounding last name as an advantage in the race. Basques are one of Idaho’s more colorful longtime ethnic minorities; Basques also have held the Idaho secretary of state’s office for the last half-century, in the form of current Secretary Ben Ysursa and predecessor Pete Cenarrusa.

Asked about it, Ybarra said she’s not Basque, but her husband’s ancestors were, way back. “That is the No. 1 Basque name,” she said. “It’s a lot like ‘Smith.’ ”

Follow political reporter Betsy Z. Russell on her blog, Eye on Boise, at spokesman.com/boise or on Twitter, @BetsyZRussell. Russell can be reached at betsyr@spokesman.com or (208) 336-2854.