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Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Red State Idaho Embraces Obamacare Insurance Exchange -- Reluctantly

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"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 GetcoveredIdaho.com 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.

If the exchange is successful, proponents -- including some Republican lawmakers and employers -- say it could help persuade skeptical lawmakers to expand Medicaid, the other central piece of Obamacare, expected to come up again next year.

Rep. Fred Wood, a retired emergency room physician who heads the Idaho House Health and Welfare Committee, says lawmakers came to the realization this spring they could no longer fight Obamacare. "The fact is, that gig is up and it’s going to happen, so let's make sure we do it our way, not someone else’s way," he says.

Wood's daughter, Ashley, is one of nearly 300,000 uninsured state residents. She works as a bartender nearly 40 hours a week at Bardenay, a restaurant-distillery in downtown Boise, but has not been offered coverage. "I worry about it as I'm now 30 and getting to the time in my life to have babies," she says as the weekday lunch crowd gathered.

She says the lowest price insurance she's found is $175 a month and that's too expensive for her. She hopes to find a better price through the exchange.

Employers with more than 50 full-time employees like Bardenay owner Kevin Settles will be required to offer coverage under the health law beginning in 2015.

Settles, who is on the exchange board of directors, says the mandate would require him to offer insurance to about 60 employees, including Wood.

Wed, Aug 07 2013

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