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DHW director Armstrong asked feds to delay exchange implementation

DHW director Armstrong asked feds to delay exchange implementation

Dustin Hurst
January 19, 2012
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January 19, 2012

Some Idaho officials think the state may be running out of time to implement a state-based health insurance exchange.

Chief among them is Dick Armstrong, head of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW). Armstrong penned a letter in early November asking Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to grant Idaho a waiver in the exchange implementation timeline.

In the message, Armstrong asked Sebelius for more time, requesting her to delay the certification date by one year. Under the 2010 federal health reforms, the state has until Jan. 1, 2013, to build a plan for a federally-certified exchange.

If Idaho has not created a program the feds deem adequate, HHS could step in and create one for the state.

Armstrong also asked HHS to delay by a year the date by which the exchange must be fully implemented and functioning, now set for Jan 1, 2014.

The task ahead for the state, Armstrong wrote, is a tough one. “We have assessed the complexities of the federal requirement and find the current timeline to be unreasonable and unrealistic,” Armstrong wrote.

DHW communication director Tom Shanahan told IdahoReporter.com Thursday that HHS acknowledged Armstrong’s letter, but didn’t give any formal response.

DHW isn’t the only agency feeling the weight of the task. The Department of Insurance (DOI), the flagship agency on the exchange project, is also feeling the pinch.  In an informational document released Jan. 11, DOI officials wrote that a study about implementation of theOhioexchange found the process could take about 50 months.Idahohas three years – or just 36 months – to complete the project.

DOI officials also note that it’s likely lawmakers will decide if they want to create a state-based exchange in March, leaving a mere six months until application for certification opens.

Even then, the exchange is far from a sure thing. Some Republicans are skeptical that a state-based program would be any different from one that the federal government would impose ifIdahochooses not to approve the program. Democrats have also threatened the exchange, saying they may use it as a political bargaining chip in order to assure passage of their ethics reform package.

Small employer enrollment within the exchange is set to begin June 2013 and individual enrollment must start in October of the same year.

The feds awarded Idaho $20 million to build its exchange, but lawmakers must give DOI spending authority for the funds.

See Armstrong's letter to HHS here.

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