Guest Opinions

Survey: Rising premiums leave Idaho consumers hungry for affordable health options

Justin Vaughn, director of the Center for Idaho History and Politics at Boise State University, left, and Corey Cook, dean of the School of Public Service, released the results of Boise State’s latest public policy survey Thursday.
Justin Vaughn, director of the Center for Idaho History and Politics at Boise State University, left, and Corey Cook, dean of the School of Public Service, released the results of Boise State’s latest public policy survey Thursday.

As insurance premiums continue to rise around the country, many of your fellow Idahoans report feeling the financial pain. So say the results of a recent statewide public opinion survey conducted by Boise State University’s School of Public Service, which finds that more than half of respondents saw their insurance rates increase over the past year. This squares with what has happened in the insurance market; according to the Department of Insurance, Idaho saw an overall 27 percent increase in the rates for 2018.

The survey results indicate that, when it comes to choosing between comprehensive coverage and affordability, a similar majority say they would prefer an affordable plan with limited benefits over a higher cost plan with many benefits.

With this in mind, as well as the fact that only about one-third of Idahoans approve of the federal Affordable Care Act, it is unsurprising that talk about an Idaho solution to the affordability problem has ramped up recently. A number of elected officials and candidates for office have been calling for such an approach, and it turns out that regular Idahoans are clamoring for it, as well. In fact, more than three-fourths of the respondents to our survey agreed that the state’s elected officials need to create an Idaho solution regarding affordable health insurance plans, with nearly 60 percent strongly in agreement.

The executive order recently issued jointly by Gov. Butch Otter and Lt. Gov. Brad Little, which directed the Department of Insurance to create guidelines for insurance carriers to offer lower priced coverage plans, is in keeping with this spirit. The cost reduction goal for essential health care coverage is in the 30 to 50 percent range.

Although details about how this will happen are still emerging, the results of our survey indicate what kinds of coverage changes are more popular with Idahoans. We asked whether respondents strongly supported various different potential changes to existing insurance policies. Among the most popular was healthy individuals being charged less, a change that more than 60 percent of Idahoans support. Changes like this one might entice younger, healthier Idahoans to purchase health insurance, making things more affordable for nearly all consumers. The flip side of this, of course, is the possibility that people with pre-existing conditions would be charged more, something that nearly 70 percent of Idahoans oppose.

Making maternity coverage optional and available at an additional cost for those who need it received more mixed responses. Just over half of respondents said they supported such a change, while nearly as many were in opposition. Interestingly, the gap between men and women on this matter is very small, with slight majorities in both genders supportive of this particular change.

Idaho Insurance Director Dean Cameron will be releasing more information in the coming weeks, and new plans might be available by the start of spring. However the details emerge, the results of our recent survey underscore the fact that rising premiums have left Idaho consumers hungry for affordable alternatives.

Justin S. Vaughn is an associate professor of political science at Boise State University and director of the Center for Idaho History & Politics.

Other survey findings

▪  57% believe Idaho is headed in the right direction.

▪  46% identify education or schools as the most important issue facing the state.

▪  46% believe the state’s economy is going to get better over the next couple years.

▪  80% agree mining in Idaho can be done in an environmentally responsible way.

▪  Two-thirds think increasing awareness and access to career education and training should be a top priority for the governor’s workforce education committee.

▪  42% think the state budget should stay about the same; nearly two-thirds think Idaho taxes are about right.

▪  Two-thirds favor giving Idaho cities “local option” taxing authority, with a popular vote, for infrastructure and other community projects; less than half, however, say they would vote for such a tax in their town.

Link to the full survey results at