Idaho Officials Hash Out Issues with State Health Exchange

Idaho state legislators say early wrinkles in the state's health exchange website have largely been ironed out.

by Mychel Matthews, The Twin Falls, Idaho Times-News / November 8, 2013

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, 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.

(c) 2013 McClatchy News Service