Amid news of anonymous threats of lawsuits, the 19 members of Gov. Butch Otter’s Health Insurance Exchange Board completed their first official meeting Monday in Boise at the Capitol. After nearly seven hours of lively discussion, the board members were each given committee assignments, while plans for the committee to meet Tuesday in a closed-to-the-public executive session were finalized.
“I got a call from a guy who did not want to identify what firm he worked for,” said Stephen Weeg, a retired executive with Health West Corporation and the interim chairman of the Insurance Exchange Board. “He just wanted to give us all a notice that within three months’ time we would all be sued for being on this board. I think he called everybody on this board, just to let us know that we were already in trouble.”
Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, a member of the board, announced that she, too, had received an anonymous call threatening a lawsuit, and had called Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, about the matter. According to Packer, Bedke had assured her that all the board members would be indemnified against potential lawsuits.
"I don't want to be in a position to be the go-to guy for legal counsel,” Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, a member of the board, said in the meeting, referencing his profession as an attorney. “But I can assist with setting up the bylaws that would allow us to have legal counsel.”
In addition to establishing bylaws for the board, other items that were debated included the establishment of protocols for executive governance of the board; financing of the board; establishing operational and IT protocols for the board; and funding and executing an outreach and marketing campaign for the exchange.
During one phase of the meeting, board member Tom Shores, an independent insurance agent from Boise, raised concerns about some of the proposed plans for a call center to be offered to participants in the insurance exchange.
“Most insurance carriers in the state have call centers and customer service representatives,” Shores noted. “Why do we need to re-invent the wheel and hire staffers for a new call center? Why can’t we utilize the resources that already exist?”
A former insurance agent and now director of the Idaho Department of Insurance, Bill Deal, saw it somewhat differently. “I consider the call center as a very different place, different than a place just to answer questions,” said Deal. “It’s got to be independent from the insurance companies. It's just one of these issues that has to be started today or tomorrow and be ready to go. It’s just one of those things that we have to give priority to.”
Weeg responded to the difference of opinion between Deal and Shores by saying, “Anything we decide here is going to have to be funded with fees charged to the people of Idaho. So I think we need to run as lean as possible.”
An additional topic of concern for the board was how to pay for the start-up costs of the insurance exchange in its early phases of operation. “Somewhere in the bill it provides us an option to actually borrow money to get this going,” Shores said to the other board members. “I'm not recommending this, and I'm not sure where we'd borrow this money, but it is an option for us.”
The board will meet Tuesday to consider a candidate to be employed as the director of the insurance exchange, a candidate Otter has recommended to the board.
“Keep your eyes open for the unintended consequence,” Weeg told the board members at the close of the day’s meeting. “Look out for the situation where we think everything is going fine, and then it comes around and bites us. We need everyone's collective intelligence on this one, as we move forward with this project.”