Idaho’s government-run health insurance exchange will see some upgrades to its website, board members were told Monday at an exchange board subcommittee meeting.
But, somewhat unexpectedly, at the close of business on Monday, there had not been any decision revealed as to how the Idaho Department of Insurance will handle President Barack Obama’s announcement last week that his administration will not enforce key provisions of the federal Obamacare law.
Last Thursday, Obama said in a press conference that he will allow insurance companies another year to continue selling plans that will otherwise be obsolete at the end of 2013.
While several members of Congress, including Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, questioned whether the president has the legal authority to simply not enforce a key provision of the federal health care law, Tom Shores, a board member of the Idaho insurance exchange’s board of directors, suggested that individual state governments would likely not be able reverse course in their insurance regulations and follow the president’s lead.
Noting that “this is why I think Gov. Otter was right to create a state-based insurance exchange, so we’re not beholden to the chaos at the federal level,” Shores said.
IdahoReporter.com spoke with Tom Donovan, deputy director of the Idaho Department of Insurance, who said that “a decision as to how we will handle the president’s plan will be announced soon.” Donovan declined to specify a timeline for the announcement.
As for the website, the primary information tool for the exchange, Tyler Pennock of Proof Integrated Communications, a New York-based company, said “We’re going to go with a more sophisticated look and feel.” Pennock was a part of a team of presenters to speak Monday before the outreach and education committee of Idaho’s health insurance exchange board of directors. “Given the climate that’s out there, we want people to feel confident about our website,” he told the committee.
The meeting, which was held at the Boise offices of the Hawley Troxell law firm (the exchange’s legal counsel), included a presentation from John Kotek of the Boise-based Gallatin Public Affairs company.
“Media outlets are starting to reach out to us and ask us for our success stories,” Kotek told the committee members. “The situation with the federal marketplace (the federal Obamacare website) has made it difficult to show people all the opportunities we have for them,” he said. “Just getting out there and talking with people about it has been the best thing we can do.”
Kotek said the exchange has provided public speakers at 74 events thus far this year, with another 39 speaking events scheduled through the end of 2013. He also noted to the committee members that there have been 80,000 unique visitors to the exchange website, 392, 866 page views, with each visitor reviewing an average of 4.5 pages and spending an average of 3.5 minutes on the website.
“As things have gotten worse on the federal exchange website, I’m wondering what has happened with visitors to Idaho’s website,” asked Dave Self, a member of the board of directors and an executive with Pacific Source insurance plans. “That’s not a tremendous number of visitors or a lot of time spent viewing the website, but when people visit, where are they going? What are they looking at?”
“They’re mostly going to our premium assistance page,” responded Susannah Buckley-Green, from the Chicago offices of the Burson-Marsteller public affairs corporation. “Traffic to Idaho’s website has mostly remained flat, even despite the troubles with the federal website,” she said.
The Idaho insurance exchange contracts with the Boise-based Gallatin Public Affairs company, while Burson-Marsteller and Proof Integrated Communications are subcontractors.
Self noted that he liked the way the Washington state insurance exchange clearly identifies the various of categories of the insurance plans that they sell as “bronze,” “silver” and “gold” plans.
“I think we want to be careful that customers do not feel judgment,” noted Matt Liepe, chief creative officer for Proof Integrated Communications. “People visiting Idaho’s website should feel good that they’re making the right choice for them, rather than feeling like one plan is better than another.”
Kotek explained that the exchange has spent approximately $1 million building its website, on outreach activities, earned media, development and execution of ad concepts, survey work, message development and support to the Idaho staff in interfacing with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He noted that the updates that the committee members were learning about at the meeting Monday would be disclosed to a full meeting of the exchange’s board of directors on Tuesday.
The committee also met in a private, behind-closed-doors executive session. Board Member Mark Estess announced that there have been several businesses registering with the Idaho secretary of state’s office that identify themselves with names that are very similar to Idaho’s official exchange name. “We met privately to make sure that we have secured all our intellectual property,” Estess commented after the board returned to an open session.