Dave Self: Setting the record straight about Idaho's health exchange

May 19, 2014 

Seven months after Your Health Idaho began operating, there are still myths and misunderstandings circulating about our state-based health insurance marketplace. Speaking as president of the Idaho Association of Health Plans and a member of the board of directors for Your Health Idaho, it's time to set the record straight.

Let's start with the basics - the unfounded notion that we should, or could, have ignored the law. The fact is that Idaho had two options: Create our own exchange or have the federal government run one for us. Every state that thought it could escape the law by doing nothing now has a federal exchange. Residents of those states have no voice in how the exchange operates or which companies are allowed to participate.

The Idaho Legislature did the right thing by placing Idahoans in charge of building our own health exchange. Here are just a few of the ways we are all benefiting.

Projections indicate that Idahoans will save an estimated $4.4 million in fees alone. The Your Health Idaho board of directors set the Idaho exchange operating assessment fee at 1.5 percent, as compared to the 3.5 percent fee charged by the federal exchange. The board of directors has decided to keep the fee at the same low rate through 2015 because we believe we can run our exchange as a lean and efficient business. And importantly, those fees stay in Idaho rather than being sent to Washington, D.C.

Some have been critical that Your Health Idaho had to rely on the federal technology platform for its first year of operation. However, this cautious approach has provided Your Health Idaho the opportunity to learn from the experiences of states that pursued a more aggressive agenda.

In Idaho, the exchange is governed by a board of Idahoans. The board of directors works diligently to make the best choices for all Idahoans with our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers in mind. Imagine if the federal government had complete control. Decisions about how and where money is spent and who provides assistance to Idahoans would be out of our hands.

Idaho determines which health plans are sold on our exchange. Idahoans have 146 plans from which to choose and a competitive marketplace where private companies can continue to compete for your business. Each plan offered in Idaho is regulated by the Idaho Department of Insurance under our state laws.

Part of our success in Idaho comes from our commitment to preserve the role of agents and brokers as primary resources for consumers. This is another example of how the Idaho exchange is using private industry to assist in enhancing the Idaho health insurance marketplace. We have a long-standing partnership with the agent and broker community and would not have the same level of success without it. In federally managed states, agents and brokers have limited roles, and without this vital group of professionals, tens of thousands of Idahoans would have been left to navigate a challenging environment alone.

Your Health Idaho just announced that more than 76,000 Idahoans selected a plan through the exchange. So, simply put, it works. It works with one of the smallest staffs and one of the smallest budgets in the nation because we did it the Idaho way. Negative talk about Idaho's exchange is inevitable, but now you have the facts. A health insurance marketplace created for and by Idahoans provides the best health insurance options for the residents of our great state.

Dave Self is president of Idaho Association of Health Plans.

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