Officials Ironing Out Issues with State Health Exchange

2013-11-08T03:00:00Z Officials Ironing Out Issues with State Health ExchangeBy Mychel Matthews mmatthews@magicvalley.com Twin Falls Times-News

BOISE • Some of the wrinkles in the state’s new health exchange website have been ironed out, say state legislators.

A new premium calculator has been installed on www.yourhealthidaho.org, which allows applicants to estimate their health insurance costs under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Also, applicants can shop for an insurance plan online without entering personal data beyond their zip code and gross income.

“There are still some issues with the website — some days it’s up and working, some days it’s not working so well,” said state Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “But, on the whole, I’m feeling better about the website.”

Cameron has been a licensed health- and life-insurance agent since 1983, specializing in employee benefits. He co-chairs Idaho’s Legislative Health Care Task Force with Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley. Wood is a retired doctor.

“The task force started a good number of years ago,” Wood said. “We meet three or four times a year to sort through the health care issue coming up before the Legislature.”

The major issue with the exchange website is still the federal portion of the exchange — where applicants actually enroll in one of the health plans online. The states with their own “back office,” as Cameron described it, don’t have to use the dysfunctional federal website.

“Kentucky’s exchange, for example, is running smoothly,” he said.

Under the ACA, everyone is required to have health insurance or pay a penalty.

“Most of the existing individual plans do not meet the criteria of health plans under the 2014 federal requirements,” said Bill Deal, director of the state Department of Insurance.

Because Idaho doesn’t have an online point of purchase for health insurance on its exchange website, the federal exchange must be used to enroll applicants.

“There is a big difference between the state and federal exchange,” Cameron said. “The federal website was designed poorly. (The contractor) did it backward, and it’s more complicated than it needed to be.”

Eventually, Idaho residents will be able to purchase health insurance by going onto the federal site, he said. But, for now, changes in the website have made it more user friendly.

“We’ve installed a calculator on the state exchange, so you can find out if you qualify for subsidies without entering all that personal information,” Cameron said. Applicants “can also load and print an application if the federal site is down.”

A direct link to insurance carriers’ websites is also a new feature, he said.

Both Cameron and Wood said the best improvement to the website is that applicants don’t have to enter personal information until they have chosen a plan to purchase.

“You can shop anonymously,” Wood said.

Copyright 2014 Twin Falls Times-News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(2) Comments

  1. mmatthews Staff
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    mmatthews - November 08, 2013 10:36 am
    finallyfree -- "Taxable income" would have been a more accurate term. I think Cameron used "gross income" for simplicity.
  2. finallyfree
    Report Abuse
    finallyfree - November 08, 2013 10:09 am
    With all due respect to Sen. Cameron, I believe he made a misstatement when he blamed the contractor for the problems with the national healthcare website. It was the Obama administration that set the rules for how the site would work. Unfortunately, about two months before the website was due to launch, an edict was issued to the contractor that there would have to be an added feature forcing applicants to give their personal information up front before they could shop. The purpose was to let people know what their subsidies would be before they found out how high their premiums would be -- which in many cases are quite high, especially the older an applicant is. This administrative order was an impossible task to accomplish before the launch date.

    Also, I believe, it would be better if the reporter for this particular article had used the word "taxable" instead of "gross" when referring to income. It's one thing to be a wage earner who has a gross taxable income; it is quite another for a business owner who has a gross income but has to apply many business deductions before he or she comes up with a gross taxable income.

    The reason I bring up the latter is that it seems many self-employed uninsured Idahoans are afraid of Obamacare. If they understand that it is their taxable income that is at issue in terms of federal subsidies, they might be pleasantly surprised when they go to the Idaho health care website. Since the calculator referred to in this article was put into place, it immediately became apparent to me that this new Affordable Health Care Act actually is affordable! In addition, for making the Idaho website more friendly, I thank Sen. Cameron and his colleagues.

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