Our View: Legislative Stalling Weakened Health Exchange for the State

2013-09-29T02:00:00Z Our View: Legislative Stalling Weakened Health Exchange for the State Twin Falls Times-News
September 29, 2013 2:00 am

Nearly 20 percent of the state’s population is uninsured. But the way state Legislature dragged its feet on the health insurance exchange leads one to think it’s not considered a problem.

Idaho’s exchange, which goes live on Tuesday, will usher in lower-cost plans, offered to most of the state. Yes, federal subsidies will pick up much of the cost.

These aren’t handouts to “welfare” recipients. Those on welfare are already covered under various programs. The exchange is for working people — people without access to insurance through their employer or who can’t afford what’s being offered.

The average family of four will annually pay about $12,000 for coverage in the exchange, an average of $1,000 less than what’s available on the open market, according to rates listed on the state exchange website. That family will actually pay around $5,000 out-of-pocket each year, after subsidies and tax credits. That’s an out-of-pocket cost not unlike what employees contribute to their family insurance in programs subsidized by their employers.

It’s doubtless that many are hoping for the program to flop.

But we hope that Boise’s last-minute assemblage of Idaho’s version doesn’t prove to be a backhanded way of promoting its failure.

State lawmakers debated Idaho’s state-run version of Obamacare for three years. It wasn’t finally adopted until March, and even then some legislators wore their best “mourning” black to the vote. The very creation of the state exchange, they argued, was an abdication of states’ rights to Washington.

Instead of building a solid program, the Legislature spent three years on hyperbole and partisan bluster. Like it or not, Obamacare was an eventuality. Instead of a good-faith effort, lawmakers pouted. A rush job like this rarely ends well.

Just five days before Idaho’s health exchange goes live, the state-run insurance market on Thursday lost its only for-profit provider when Altius Health Plans pulled out after being bought by industry giant, Aetna.

It’s a huge blow that cost Idaho’s fledgling exchange about 10 percent of the total number of policies that exchange designers hoped to offer. The loss of Altius leaves just three providers in the state exchange and limits the options to Idaho’s 279,000 uninsured residents. The loss of Altius undermines the program before it even starts, which is no doubt welcome news to those who are rooting for its failure.

We don’t know how President Obama’s Affordable Care Act will actually pan out. Tons of carbon dioxide has been exhaled in the past few days telling us Obamacare will not only fail, but is somehow an attack on the U.S. Constitution. Exalted safety nets Social Security and Medicare, would no doubt come under the same attacks were they proposed in America’s now-toxic political environment.

Idaho’s program lost one of their largest providers and there’s no time now to plug the hole. It’s the necessary outcome of poor planning.

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