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Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Red State Idaho Embraces Obamacare Insurance Exchange -- Reluctantly

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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.

Settles says he also pushed for a state-run exchange because he thought it could help keep costs down. He notes the Idaho exchange will have a 1.5 percent surcharge on policies sold in the marketplace to pay for administrative costs. The federally operated exchanges will have a 3.5 percent surcharge.

Despite the one-year delay in the employer mandate, Settles plans to extend coverage to all his full time workers next year. "I am tired of the uncertainty and it is a benefit I would like to provide -- if it's a benefit I can afford."

The only industry group to oppose the state-based exchange was the Idaho Farm Bureau, which represents 15,000 farmers and ranchers. But spokesman John Thompson says he expects many members to be willing to buy coverage on the exchange despite their ideological opposition. "If it makes economic sense to them, they will do it," he says.

Wed, Aug 07 2013

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