According to reports from the Associated Press, leaders of Idaho’s state-based health insurance exchange know “virtually nothing” about the reported 1,730 Idahoans who had purchased insurance plans from the state’s website as of Nov. 30.
Stating that “I really wish I had more details,” Amy Dowd, executive director of the exchange, explained on Dec. 12 that because the Idaho exchange operates on a federal government web platform, she is unable to determine what transactions are taking place through the state website.
The circumstances pose an interesting question for supporters and employees of Idaho’s state-based insurance exchange: if the Idaho website actually operates on a federal government system and if exchange employees have no idea what is happening with the exchange’s customers, then in what sense is Idaho’s state-based insurance exchange actually “state based?”
“I’m not sure at this point,” commented Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell. “That would seem to be an essential data point for the exchange director to have (identities of customers). If Ms. Dowd doesn’t have that, then that is a concern. I need to look into this further.”
Hixon voted in favor of creating the insurance exchange during the 2013 legislative session. So did Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, yet Klow expresses greater confidence in the exchange’s “state-based” status.
“It is still a state exchange, but the backbone of it is connected to the federal government,” Clow told IdahoReporter.com. “Everybody knew that going into this we would have to rely on parts of the federal platform in order to get this done.”
Dowd’s admission about knowing “virtually nothing” about the exchange’s customers in mid-December comes at an interesting time. As recently as Oct. 30, Dowd told the board of directors for the exchange that “We have met several needs of Idahoans. We have kept the federal government out of Idaho, we have retained our state sovereignty and we have retained our local control.”
Yet despite the claims of local control, Dowd has also spoken openly to the board that there won’t be a state-based exchange until next year, “hopefully by fall of 2014.”
Many supporters of the exchange, like Clow, maintain that Idahoans have control over the exchange to the extent that local Idahoans function as customer service representatives and insurance agents and brokers in Idaho are a part of the exchange’s customer service network.
Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, a member of the board of directors for the exchange, concurs with Klow on this matter.
“Our state is running all of the navigator (a federal term for customer service representatives) program, we’re running all of our outreach program, including the tribal piece, we’re running all of our marketing and advertising,” Packer told IdahoReporter.com. “Our Idaho Department of Insurance is still overseeing the plans and the agents and brokers, etc. Idaho is completely involved in this exchange except for the application piece, which there was no time to implement at a state level.”
Packer added that the state is fortunate that, indeed, the exchange has an Idaho look to it, explaining, “We were lucky to get approval to rent the final piece needed or we would have completely turned over everything to the federal exchange, which would have included money to organizations that we don’t support, which would have meant no background checks or training for our in-person assisters, and much, much more.”
While supporters dismiss concerns about the Idaho insurance exchange being controlled by the federal Obamacare website system, it doesn’t change the way in which the exchange agenda was presented to Idahoans during the first quarter of this year. For example, in a 30-second audio commercial that was broadcast on radio stations statewide, Gov. Butch Otter suggested that a state exchange would “keep the feds out of Idaho.” Said Otter:
“This is Gov. Butch Otter. The people of Idaho should run their own lives, free from federal interference. That’s why I support an Idaho-based exchange. It’s no secret that I oppose Obamacare. We were the first state to sue to overturn it, but we lost. We can still build our own exchange, or let the feds impose their version on us. I want Idahoans to be in charge, not the feds. We can do it better and cheaper. If you want to keep the feds out of Idaho, let your state legislators know that you support a state exchange. Go to Gov.Idaho.Gov and sign the petition.” (Paid for by the Idaho Association Of Commerce And Industry).
Packer maintains that what exists today as a state-based exchange is consistent with what was promised to Idahoans earlier this year. “Though some will never acknowledge that the Republicans who voted for the state exchange were not supporting the Obamacare law, but were rather trying to protect Idahoans as much as they possibly could from the negative impact of that law, those of us who did support it can still see the benefit of what we did. Those that are willing to deal in facts, rather than simply emotions and ideology, will recognize that Gov. Otter and the rest of us strongly oppose Obamacare and have worked in all available avenues to stop its implementation in Idaho.”
In contrast, Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, told IdahoReporter.com that what he voted to support is not what exists today. “Idahoans need to be able to get reliable insurance information and not have to use the federal exchange. The board needs to get off the federal system. The legislation we passed calls for a state-based insurance exchange and what we’ve got is not what I was expecting.”