Gov. Butch Otter’s state health insurance exchange has opened up an office in Boise, and has recently quadrupled its staff. But as funding for the exchange remains uncertain amid its expansion, at least one legislative member of its board of directors is expressing concerns over proposals for the exchange to operate collaboratively with existing state government agencies.
While its website is not yet active, the state insurance exchange has nonetheless established an office located at 714 W. State St. in Boise.
According to administrative assistant Alison Verrinder, the exchange has added three new full-time staffers to work directly with executive director Amy Dowd, including Judy Olson, director of communications; Alberto Gonzalez, operations project manager; and Rick Moran, main project manager. Verrinder said her position is only temporary at this point, and she does not include herself in the staffing additions.
In a Tuesday meeting of the outreach and education subcommittee of the exchange’s board of directors, discussion emerged about the possibility of the insurance exchange working collaboratively with two state government agencies.
For one, Gonzalez proposed to the subcommittee that the exchange work with the Idaho Department of Insurance (DOI) as a means of connecting insurance agencies throughout the state with the insurance exchange. “We want to reach out to a lot of established agencies in the state that can help us roll this out quickly,” he stated to the subcommittee, and without elaborating on specific details said that DOI will play an “important role” with the insurance exchange.
Additionally, the subcommittee openly discussed the idea of the insurance exchange collaborating with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) to create a telephone call center for insurance exchange customers. “We’re talking about using the existing infrastructure that DHW has as the primary operational function to support call center services,” noted Mark Estess, exchange board member and chairman of the subcommittee.”
Estess said that by temporarily using DHW to provide a call center, the insurance exchange would be able to launch its services more quickly, but also noted that “when exchange customers call the exchange phone number they will nonetheless be told that they are contacting the insurance exchange, and not DHW. We will create a division between the two.”
Last month, the insurance exchange fell under criticism for its decision to accept money directly from DHW. While Otter’s staff estimated earlier this year that there would be $20 million in grants given by the federal government for the launch of the exchange and that the exchange would not be financed with either Idaho tax dollars or by other state agencies, as of June 21 the state had not received any of those federal grants.
With the exchange’s operational costs continuing to add up, DHW Director Richard Armstrong chose to transfer $385,000 out of DHW’s bank accounts to the exchange’s back account as a means of providing working capital to the exchange.
“I have a couple of concerns with this,” noted Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, an exchange board member, in response to the proposal regarding DHW. “I understand the need for expediency. I can see how this would be a natural drift in terms of thought patterns. The two concerns I have are the perception of constituents in Idaho as well as legislators.”
Noting that the legislation creating the exchange stipulated that no state agencies would fund the exchange, Packer added that “we very clearly distinguished that it (the insurance exchange) had to be a separate entity, separate from state functions. So there is going to need to be a way to show that this one is a temporary solution to help us through a time crunch, and that we are segmenting dollars and employee time … so that no state funds or resources are being used for this call center. I mean, that’s critical.”
Packer cited the transfer of DHW funds to the insurance exchange as one reason for her concerns: “We’ve already been questioned extensively on the $385,000 that we received from them on a loan. So we’re going to have to be very mindful on how we forge ahead with that, how we organize that, if that truly is the route that we take.”
“Thank you for that Rep. Packer,” Dowd said in response. “I know we discussed this prior as well. So really how I think the way to see this is that Health and Welfare is a vendor, for all practical purposes, to the exchange. We would establish a memorandum of understanding and establish cost allocations, so there is no mixing of funds, there is no payment for exchange services by DHW. It is a seamless process to Idahoans. It (the exchange) could be using another vendor, another vendor’s call center, but in the interest of time, this infrastructure is already established, we know that we can quickly ramp up.”
The subcommittee meeting concluded without any decisions made about the exchange collaborating with DHW and DOI.
IdahoReporter.com attempted to find out where and when the insurance exchange posts its job openings and the salaries at which its new employees were hired, but received no response.
Idahoans seeking more information about the insurance exchange can call 208.991.4911, or email the executive director, [email protected].