'Idaho shouldn't dally:' Business group pushes for health exchange

With a key deadline exactly one month away, a state business group today stepped up the campaign for Idaho to create its own health insurance exchange.

The Idaho Health Exchange Alliance urged the state to create its own exchange — an online marketplace where individuals and businesses can shop for insurance.

“Idaho shouldn’t dally in building a health insurance exchange, especially when we know doing it ourselves will keep the federal government out of our business,” said Scott Gipson, president of Caxton Printers Ltd. in Caldwell.

Dallying is what state leaders have done — for months. Now, the state has until Nov. 16 to commit to creating its own exchange. If not, the federal government can establish an exchange for Idaho, under the auspices of the federal health care law.

So time is running out. But the alliance has assembled an impressive list of backings, such as the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the Idaho Medical Association and the Idaho Mining Association.

Here's the alliance news release:

A broad-based alliance of businesses, community groups and health care organizations today urged Idaho’s leaders to support a state health insurance exchange.

Exchanges are essentially online marketplaces intended to make health insurance options more clear and thereby more competitive. They would provide a single stop web portal for comparing and selecting health insurance products. They are intended to simplify the process by laying out health insurance options and explaining plans in terms of benefits and costs.

Under the federal Affordable Care Act, Idaho has until Nov. 16 to declare its intention to design and build its own exchange. If Idaho decides not to pursue a state exchange — or fails to meet the deadline — the federal government will create one, which will be operated at the state’s expense.

“Idaho shouldn’t dally in building a health insurance exchange, especially when we know doing it ourselves will keep the federal government out of our business,” said Scott Gipson, president of Caxton Printers Ltd. in Caldwell. “I trust an Idaho-based solution a lot more than I trust the federal government to get this right.”

A recent poll performed by the Mason Dixon Polling Group, commissioned by The Idaho Statesman, showed that a majority of those who responded were in support of a state health insurance exchange.

With time limited, some Idaho Health Exchange Alliance members added that an innovative nonprofit model offers the state the option to build a streamlined exchange that would serve Idaho businesses and consumers well. The State Health Exchange Working Group designated by Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter recently heard from health care attorney and consultant Jack Rovner who said Idaho has time to create a health insurance exchange, run by a nonprofit corporation, that could beat the federal timeline, all without using Idaho taxpayer dollars.

Rovner’s presentation made it clear that a nonprofit corporation exchange model would allow the state to act fast and would provide better control, lower costs and the ability to ensure continued high quality health care and the continued employment of Idaho agents and brokers.

Business leaders said the idea of a streamlined, efficient business model for a state health insurance exchange would be better for Idaho companies who were wary of federal control of a health insurance exchange. At this time, while the Alliance has taken no formal position on the nonprofit model, some members support this concept.

“I hope Idaho’s leaders can act quickly and make this happen, especially now that we know we can beat the federal deadlines with a free market, nonprofit solution,” said Cally Parrott vice president of corporate relations for Clear Springs Foods Inc. in Twin Falls.

“We can have the people of Idaho create a health exchange for Idahoans,“ said Dean Haagenson, the president/CEO of Contractors Northwest, Inc. in Coeur d’Alene and a former state legislator. “Or we can take whatever the federal government gives us. I know which one I’d prefer.”

“Idaho has a rare opportunity to design its own plan, rather than accept a one-size-fits-all approach instituted by the federal government,” said Dave Self, Senior Vice President and Regional Director of Idaho and Washington for Pacific Source Health Plans. “An exchange that’s designed to work in Florida or New York isn’t necessarily going to be the best solution for the people of Idaho.”

The alliance is supported by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, or IACI, because of the advantages a nonprofit corporation model would bring to businesses and insurance brokers around the state. IACI president Alex LaBeau is also a member of the commission established by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to review the establishment of a state-run health insurance exchange.

Other supporters of an Idaho state exchange include the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Northwest Food Processors Association, Idaho Association of Health Plans, Idaho Medical Association, Idaho Mining Association, and many Idaho small businesses and individuals.