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    Red State Idaho Embraces Obamacare Insurance Exchange -- Reluctantly


    Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, the state's most influential business lobby, argued the state could better control costs, offer more choice and preserve the role of agents and brokers.

    His group helped elect more than a dozen new "business-friendly" state legislators who supported a state-run marketplace, also called an exchange.

    "The business community always prefers to work with state government as our state agencies always pick up the phone when we call," LaBeau says.

    As Idaho races to launch its exchange this fall, the state will face the added challenge of trying to persuade a citizenry known for its anti-government leanings. Exchange officials are hopeful an education campaign using direct mail, billboards, churches and websites like Facebook and Twitter, among other things, can help them overcome doubts about participating.

    "There is an independent spirit of Idahoans and we are rising to the challenge," Amy Dowd, the exchange executive director, says in her office across from the Capitol. The office is so new that the sign on the front door is written on 8 x 10 paper, the cream colored walls are bare and printers sit in their boxes.

    Working with a $20 million federal planning grant, the exchange has plenty to do to be ready to open for enrollment Oct 1, with coverage to take effect Jan. 1. By mid-August it hopes to choose a name, a website address and a logo. It also must train insurance agents and other groups how to use the site, and state regulators must approve the health plans.

    A lot is a stake. About 200,000 of Idaho’s 1.6 million residents will be eligible to buy coverage in the exchange which will also sell insurance to small businesses. While the state has some of the lowest insurance costs in the nation, it has an 18 percent uninsured rate, higher than the national average.

    Blue Cross of Idaho has already launched a web site called to publicize the new exchange and plans to work with community groups, local colleges and the state’s library system to promote it. Spokeswoman Karen Early said that like residents in most states, Idahoans are confused about how the exchange will work.

    Wed, Aug 07 2013

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