The board of directors of Idaho’s government-run health insurance exchange met for the first time since the exchange’s official Oct. 1 launch, with Amy Dowd, executive director, expressing enthusiasm for its beginnings.
But the startup was not without its hiccups with one board member saying he is receiving calls from insurance agents wanting to know why they are not listed on the site and two board members noting that residents in their areas were worried that federal health insurance might jeopardize their Medicare benefits.
“It’s been an exciting week,” Dowd told board members, at their Thursday afternoon meeting, held at the Boise offices of the Hawley Troxell law firm. The firm serves as legal counsel to the exchange.
Dowd reported that on its first official day of operation, the exchange website logged approximately 18, 500 unique visits, with 85, 900 total page views. Each unique visitor viewed an average 5.78 pages, and spent approximately 3.58 minutes looking at the website.
“Because of high traffic to HealthCare.gov (the federal Obamacare website to which Idaho’s website links), this has slowed down the application process,” Dowd informed the board members. “When you get to the Healthcare.gov application part you might end up seeing a holding page. Do not refresh your browser at that point, or you’ll lose your virtual place in line and have to start over.”
“Maybe we can tell people to wait until the 15th of the month or so, when the feds get the bugs worked out,” wondered board member Hyatt Erstad.
“That’s a good idea” Dowd stated. “It’s not urgent for people to do this right away.”
Additionally, Dowd reported that on Oct. 1, the exchange’s telephone call center received approximately 500 calls. “The average time spent per call was about five minutes,” she stated, while also noting that the exchange’s customer service representatives had also responded to 100 email messages.
“That number of 500 is close to the roughly 400 calls I’ve gotten,” noted board member Tom Shores. An insurance agent by profession, Shores said that the calls he was receiving were from other insurance agents across the state. “They’ve called to tell me that they can’t find their name and information on the website.”
Alberto Gonzalez, an exchange employee, explained that “some people with old versions of Internet Explorer web browsers were having difficulty seeing everything that is on the website.”
Stephen Weeg, chairman of the board, asked Shores if he “expecting to see every agent listed each time you log on?”
“What we had originally discussed was that you could search for insurance agents in your area by zip code,” Shores replied. “Agents are calling me saying they can’t find their name and information listed on the website at all, even when they search alphabetically.”
Gonzalez agreed that more work remains to be completed on the exchange website to correct the problems that Shores noted.
“Do we know if anyone has enrolled in an insurance plan yet?” Weeg asked the board members and exchange employees.
Board member Scott Krelling, an executive with Regence Blue Shield insurance of Idaho, reported that his company had not yet enrolled any new customers through the state exchange.
Several of the exchange board members were not physically present at the meeting and instead joined the meeting via speakerphone. One board member, whose name could not be identified because of some audio problems, stated that there have not yet been any new insurance plan enrollees via the exchange.
Gonzalez told the board members that the exchange website’s analytics would eventually be augmented to keep track of insurance plan applicants, and enrollees, separately. He noted that those two tabulations are substantively different, and that there is usually a lag time between applying for an insurance plan and actually becoming enrolled in one.
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a board member of the exchange, disclosed that he had met with residents in his legislative district who were fearful that the presence of the federal health insurance program in Idaho would disrupt their Medicare coverage.
“I received a call like that at my home,” Erstad said, concurring with Rusche. “Perhaps we could list some of these common questions on the exchange website, so people understand that the exchange doesn’t apply to you if you’re already qualified for Medicare.”
“We already have FAQs (frequently asked questions) posted,” Dowd replied.
“And they are very good ones,” Erstad noted. “I’m just suggesting that we might want to post more.”
“We may need to explain, ‘hey, if you’re on Medicare, this doesn’t apply to you,’” Weeg said in agreement with Erstad.
Dowd also announced that video production has begun on a series of television advertisements for the exchange, and that the advertisements are being shot in the Boise foothills. She noted that the television commercials, along with radio and print advertisements, will begin on Oct. 21.
The board members did not set a date for their next meeting, although Weeg suggested that limiting the board to a two hour, once-a-month meeting would be desirable.