The Idaho state health insurance exchange has determined which insurance plans it will be distributing and from which insurance companies those plans will originate. The three health insurance companies that are currently the largest in the state—Blue Cross, Blue Shield and PacificSource—are poised to dominate the state-based insurance exchange once it begins to operate.
“Based on the statute, any insurance company that wanted to participate could participate,” explained Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, a voting member of the insurance exchange board of directors. “They were given a deadline by the Department of Insurance to submit their intent to be involved (with the insurance exchange) and another date to submit their plans. Those plans were reviewed by the Department of Insurance (DOI) as is currently required by Idaho law on any, and all, insurance plans.”
After completing its review of the insurance companies that applied to sell insurance through the exchange, a spokesperson from DOI presented the department’s company recommendations at the Thursday, July 25, meeting of the exchange board of directors. “The board approved their recommendations,” Packer stated.
According to Tricia Carney, spokesperson for DOI, the selected insurance companies and plans are:
Altius Health Plans, Blue Cross of Idaho, BridgeSpan Health Company, PacificSource Health Plans and SelectHealth will sell individual medical plans through the exchange.
BEST Life and Health Insurance Company, Blue Cross of Idaho, Delta Dental of Idaho, Dentegra Insurance Company and PacificSource Health Plans will sell individual dental plans on the exchange.
For SHOP (small business health options plans) medical insurance plans (medical insurance plans for small business owners and their employees), Blue Cross of Idaho, PacificSource Health Plans and SelectHealth have been selected.
And for SHOP dental plans, exchange customers will be able to choose from plans offered by BEST Life and Health Insurance Company, Blue Cross of Idaho, Dentegra Insurance Company, PacificSource Health Plans and The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.
Packer told IdahoReporter.com that all members of the exchange board voted to accept the DOI’s recommendations. In previous meetings of the exchange board of directors, three board members—Dave Self, who is employed by PacificSource Health Plans, Scott Kreiling, who works for Regence Blue Shield of Idaho, and Zelda Geyer-Sylvia, an employee of Blue Cross of Idaho—have abstained from voting on exchange board matters that pertain directly to the interests of their employers.
“In my opinion this was not one of those situations where that was necessary,” Packer said. “The exchange board of directors did not select the insurance companies that were to be considered for participation in the insurance exchange or what plans they would sell. That process was handled by the Department of Insurance, and the board of directors merely voted on whether or not to accept that department’s recommendations.”
Reaction to the news about the plans to be available through the exchange was varied.
“There appears to be some modest improvement on consumer choices that are to be provided with the exchange in that there are some additional insurers,” commented Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, “although the state's three dominant insurers appear to remain dominant with the exchange. In my mind the primary purposes of the exchange are to provide Idahoans an avenue to receive affordable health care and for them to have a choice regarding insurers.”
Suzanne Budge, Idaho director for the National Federation of Independent Business, told IdahoReporter.com that “it remains to be seen what the impact of this will be. The fact that there are multiple insurance carriers is a good sign, but we’d certainly like to see more companies providing more competition. But until we see the plans and how they are priced and what their fees will be, we won’t know if the insurance exchange is going to do anything to lower consumer prices.”
In recent years, and before the Idaho insurance exchange was created, efforts have been undertaken in the Legislature to expand consumer insurance choice by permitting insurance companies from other states to sell insurance plans in Idaho.
For example, in May of 2012, former Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, introduced House Bill 587, which would have allowed insurance companies from other states to offer their health care sales services in the Gem State. The bill garnered bipartisan support, passing the House on a 59-6 vote. However, the bill never got out of the Senate.
Burgoyne said that he is hopeful that the selection of insurers will expand. “It is my hope that the amount of choice available to Idaho consumers will improve over time. However, it’s also important to remember that our other goal is affordable insurance and to the extent that Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Pacific Source and the other players are able to use their market positions including their size to provide affordable health insurance products, that has to be viewed as a positive.”
Burgoyne continued: “The reality is that there are some very large health systems in Idaho and across the country including St Luke’s and St. Alphonsus regional medical centers and in order to try to secure affordable insurance, it is probably necessary to have some large health insurers with sufficient market leverage when it comes to dealing with the large health systems.”
Stephen Weeg, chairman of the board for the insurance exchange told IdahoReporter.com that “we’ve made a very good start with our insurance plan offerings.”
When asked about expanding the number of companies and plans within the exchange, Weeg noted that “there is a point of consumer fatigue where too much choice can be overwhelming and become a bad thing. That said, I think the market will drive the number of insurance plans and companies within the exchange. Companies are free to apply for participation in the exchange and they’re free not to as well. Ultimately insurance companies have to be confident that they can sell a viable product on the exchange and be successful at it. I think the market will determine this.”