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About 1,700 Idaho residents selected insurance coverage via state exchange through Nov. 30

State insurance exchange leaders know virtually nothing about the 1,730 people who purchased health coverage available via Your Health Idaho through Nov. 30.

Director Amy Dowd said Dec. 11 that Idaho’s reliance on the federal government to enroll people has left her in the dark about the plans they are purchasing, their ages and whether they hail from the ranks of the uninsured or previously had a policy.

Such data is important in determining the financial viability of exchange-based plans and whether the exchange is meeting President Barack Obama’s goal of insuring more people via online marketplaces for individuals and small businesses that were a central part of his 2010 health care law.

Dowd doesn’t expect to know much about Idaho’s enrollees until the state weans itself from the federal system and builds its own enrollment software next Oct. 1 with a pending $50 million grant from the federal government.

“We are very anxious for that level of detail, as well,” she told reporters during a conference call. “I really wish I had more details.”

Insurance companies in Idaho, including Blue Cross and BridgeSpan Health, a new company created by Regence BlueShield of Idaho’s parent firm, on Dec. 11 didn’t immediately provide information they’re tracking about individuals who have selected coverage.

“It’s still too early to assess enrollment details,” said Chris Blanton, the president of BridgeSpan, in a statement to The Associated Press. “It is important to look at who signs up over the entire six-month open enrollment period to determine what impact enrollment will have on the marketplace.”

After the Dec. 11 release of the latest enrollment data, Karen Early, a Blue Cross spokeswoman, said her company is trying to determine if the system is transmitting accurate information from the federal government to insurers, something that’s been in question since exchanges went live Oct. 1.

“There are some test files going back and forth to determine if it’s the right information,” Early said.

The Dec. 11 figure for Idaho, released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was about five times the 338 people who selected coverage in October, the first, glitch-plagued month of operations for exchanges nationwide.

The Idaho enrollment numbers are similar to the national trend.

Enrollment statistics from HHS showed 364,682 people signed up for private coverage as of Nov. 30. Although that’s more than three times the October total, it’s less than one-third of the 1.2 million people officials originally projected would enroll nationwide by Nov. 30.

The sluggish figures in Idaho, which the federal government forecasts will enroll 40,000 in the first year, aren’t a surprise, said Dowd, adding the main goal of the Your Health Idaho exchange in its infancy is simply getting the word out to residents that they can shop for federally-subsidized coverage, if they qualify based on income.

“We’ve always expected that our beginning numbers would be low,” she said.

Even so, Dowd said she’s optimistic that more will enroll.

For one, she said, the accelerating figures reflect results before significant repairs to the federal website on Dec. 1.

Since then, she said she’s heard anecdotal stories from enrollees who have required as little as 25 minutes to complete the application process and select a policy, due to begin on Jan. 1.

By design, there’s been little advertising for the Idaho exchange, Dowd added.

“We were holding back on some of our marketing, because we didn’t want to point people to an experience that would be frustrating for them,” she said.

No date has been set for the $3.5 million marketing campaign to begin in earnest, said Ysabel Bilbao, a private contractor acting as a spokeswoman for the exchange.

Idaho residents must select a plan by Dec. 23 for coverage to start Jan. 1. To avoid a tax penalty, they’ll have to buy a plan before March 31.

Dowd said she still supports Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s request for the federal government to delay enforcing the penalty because of problems with the exchange.

Updated at 4:10 p.m. Dec. 11 with more details.

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