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It’s important for Idaho’s health exchange to remain under state control

Doug SayerIn 2011 my company, Premier Technology, made a simple yet significant change in the way we did business. We committed to buying a greater share of materials needed for our operations from Idaho suppliers.

And we did it without sacrificing quality or profits.

I write about this now because I think local sourcing and local control are important values to keep in mind, especially now that Idaho’s new health insurance exchange has become a central issue in this year’s Republican primaries and with some legislators talking about repealing the law that created the exchange.

I proudly supported Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, so I’m not going to advocate for the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”

I do, however, support Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and the 2013 Legislature’s decision to form a state-run Idaho health insurance exchange, now known as Your Health Idaho, and you should too. We came dangerously close to having a federally run and federally controlled exchange, and that’s what we will have if Idaho pulls the plug on Your Health Idaho.

The latest enrollment numbers – nearly 20,000 Idahoans have purchased insurance through the exchange since it opened for business – represent a strong indication that Idahoans not only want health coverage but they’re comfortable buying it through our Idaho exchange assisted by our friends and neighbors (fellow Idahoans).

Just as it proved to be good for my business to buy local from local suppliers, I think it’s the right decision for Idaho to manage its own health insurance marketplace rather than allow the federal government to control our destiny.

Our state health exchange provides the following:

  • Idahoans make the decisions. Your Health Idaho is governed by a volunteer board of Idahoans who are appointed by the governor and will be confirmed by the state Senate. They make the key decisions about how the exchange is managed and how its dollars are spent.
  • We set the policies, and we get to do the oversight. The 146 plans offered by our state’s health insurance exchange are from Idaho companies with oversight by the Idaho Department of Insurance. In federally managed states, plans are selected and regulated by the federal government and a band of bureaucrats.
  • Idaho agents and brokers assist Idaho consumers. Federally managed exchanges offer limited roles for local agents and brokers. In Idaho, more than 300 licensed private agents and brokers help Idahoans find the plan that best fits their needs. In addition, Your Health Idaho in-person assisters receive more training and are subject to more rigorous background checks and stricter rules than in federally managed states.
  • Idaho has lower fees. Last June the Your Health Idaho exchange board adopted a 1.5 percent assessment on each policy to put the exchange on the road to being financially self-sustainable by 2016. That is far lower than 3.5 percent assessed on policies sold in states with federally managed exchanges.

Idaho’s health insurance exchange has had its challenges and issues during its startup, but they are, in fact, linked to the federal government’s faulty technology. I’m sure the Idaho exchange board and staff are working on a solution. I’m told Your Health Idaho has found an Idaho vendor and is on track to having a site supported by Idaho technology that will be online and working by the 2015 enrollment period. Then perhaps our local supplier might get the chance to fix the federal system; there’s a chance it will need some work.

The issue is not whether you like the idea; it’s about who’s running it.

Douglas A. Sayer is founder and chief business officer of Premier Technology Inc. in Blackfoot.

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