Gov. Butch Otter’s health insurance exchange board met Thursday in Boise and began crafting the structure and governing rules of both the board and the exchange itself.
“There is a lot of work that lies ahead,” said board member Frank Chan, owner of Applied Computing of Boise. Chan presented to the board an elaborate plan for the development of the exchange including the establishment of a call center, the hiring of call center staff, training and “scripting” of the staff, and the establishment of an inbound telephone calling system.
Board member Mark Estess, speaking on behalf of the board’s outreach and marketing subcommittee, said that the proposed working web domain name for the exchange website is “InsuredIdaho.com.” However, there was some question if the domain should be a “dot com” or a “dot org” domain. The board agreed to explore the issue before making a final determination.
Estess also motioned that the subcommittee change its name to the outreach and education subcommittee. He said “we’d like to take the word marketing out of this.” The board approved the change.
News of the exchange’s impact on Idaho small businesses was presented by board member, nurse and former Idaho state representative, Margaret Henbest, who served as a Democrat from Boise.
As a means of complying with the federal Obamacare law, Henbest said, the Idaho insurance exchange must structure its own Small Business Health Options Programs (SHOP) as a means of offering specific health insurance plans to small business owners within the state. Henbest said that the SHOP subcommittee has defined “small business” to include businesses of 50 or fewer employees, but also told board members that the exchange will only be able to offer one insurance plan option to those small businesses when the exchange officially launches.
This news about the absence of multiple insurance options contradicts information told to IdahoReporter.com by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last month.
On April 5, IdahoReporter.com published a story that cited information from the New York Times about the state insurance exchanges. Noting that the intent of the Obamacare law was to provide small business owners and their employees a broad choice of health insurance plans from which they could choose, the New York Times article cited by IdahoReporter.com nonetheless noted that multiple SHOP options would not be available until the first quarter of 2015, at the earliest.
The article also noted that the administration had cited “operational challenges” as the cause of the delay. In the interim, small business owners in most states would have only one approved insurance plan to purchase.
The publication of this information drew criticism from Fabien Levy, press secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. “The New York Times story was factually inaccurate,” Levy stated via email and a telephone call to IdahoReporter.com.
“People are reading these news stories all over the country,” Levy further stated to IdahoReporter.com, “so it is very important that people are receiving accurate information.”
Levy explained at that time that, contrary to the Times story, the health insurance options for small business employers will not be delayed, saying that “coverage will begin on January of 2014 and open enrollment will begin in October of 2013.”
The exchange board also heard a presentation from Michael Stoddard, an attorney with the Boise-based Hawley Troxell law firm, about how the insurance exchange must comply with Idaho’s open meeting statutes. Open meeting laws require government agencies to conduct their official board meetings in public, and to provide notification of the meetings in advance and a record of the meetings must be available.
“The exchange is not a government agency, but it has to comply with the same open meeting laws that government agencies must comply with nonetheless,” said Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, a member of the board. “The Legislature created the exchange so it had to comply with the laws, and we did it this way very intentionally. We don’t want the business of the exchange to be conducted in secret, and I think that’s a very good thing.”
Rice told IdahoReporter.com that the Hawley Troxell firm is contracted to work for the exchange on an hourly basis, rather than being paid a monthly retainer fee.