The board of directors of Idaho’s government-run health insurance exchange met Monday to discuss a letter of inquiry it received from a committee of the United States House of Representatives. The board concluded its meeting by unanimously approving a plan to have the Boise-based Hawley Troxell law firm, the exchange’s legal counsel, respond to the congressional inquiry. The plan passed with the understanding that the exchange will not be billed more than $50,000 for the firm’s services.
“I have spoken with several other states about this,” explained Amy Dowd, executive director for the Idaho exchange. “Washington tells me that they’ll respond to this as a public records request. Kentucky and Nevada aren’t sure how they’ll respond,” she told the board members.
The letter, sent to the leaders of 17 specific insurance exchanges (the exchanges of 16 states as well as the District of Columbia), was issued by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The congressional committee’s letter raises concerns and questions about the screening, hiring and utilization of what the Obamacare program refers to as exchange “navigators.” They are people who work on behalf of the individual exchanges and who are to provide “unbiased educational and outreach efforts” on behalf of the exchange. Another category of aid is referred to as “assisters,” a different category of exchange workers who perform similar if not identical tasks to navigators.
The letter raises the concern that “con artists and identity thieves will pose as Navigators and Assisters,” and that “the problem will only increase as Obamacare is fully implemented.” The letter then asks the leadership of each of the individual insurance exchanges, including Idaho’s, to answer nine specific questions about the screening and hiring of navigators and assisters and to have the questions answered by Nov. 13.
“If you pay attention to this committee and some of their activities, there seems to be some effort to slow down Obamacare,” said board member Dave Self, an executive with PacificSource Health Plans. “Have we contacted our congressional delegation to request an extension on this?”
Dowd noted that she had not yet taken steps to contact Idaho’s delegation.
“This is political grandstanding,” said board member Kevin Settles. “It delays us from trying to fix our problems. It definitely makes sense for us to reach out, maybe just to Simpson's (Congressman Mike Simpson) office, to see if he can get them to minimize the information they are looking for.”
“I met with Mike Simpson about this last week and briefed him on this,” responded board member Mark Estess of AARP of Idaho. “I think he can reach out to the committee and try to front-load the conversation.”
John Livingston, an Idaho physician and member of the exchange board, noted that “it’s important to note that they (the congressional committee) are investigating the activities of HHS (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency overseeing the Obamacare program), and not necessarily us.”
“I think it would be good to speak to our congressional delegation, but I think we should go to the entire committee directly,” said board member Zelda Geyer-Sylvia, an executive with Blue Cross of Idaho. “These kinds of congressional inquiries are not all that unusual,” she added.
“I agree with Zelda,” Scott Kreiling, a board member and executive with Regence Blue Shield of Idaho told the other board members. “Being on the insurance side, we get these inquiries all the time. We should stay focused on what we need to do and not get pulled into the political landscape.”
Earlier this year, concerns emerged about the security of personal data collected by state insurance exchanges, both information gathered through websites and by in-person encounters with exchange staffers. Despite trouble in the states of Utah and California, several Idaho state legislators who voted to create an insurance exchange in the Gem State remained confident about security matters.
Since the launch of the Obamacare website and its subsequent failures, many insurance exchanges, including Idaho’s, have switched to using paper-based documents to process insurance applications. U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has expressed concerns about the security of the paper documents, and the exchange staffers who handle them.
After the board approved its plan to have its legal counsel respond to the congressional inquiry, IdahoReporter.com contacted the Hawley Troxell law firm for further details. Mike Stoddard, a partner in the firm, declined to answer questions pending approval from Judy Olson, spokesperson for the Idaho state insurance exchange. Olson also declined to answer questions pending the submission of a public records request.
“Any time the House of Representatives asks for information about a federal program, we should give it to them,” Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, a board member of the exchange, told IdahoReporter.com after the meeting. “I'm glad they are inquiring.”
A copy of the congressional inquiry sent to Idaho insurance exchange executive director Amy Dowd, obtained from the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, can be viewed HERE.