Idaho’s Health Insurance Exchange Director Is Pleased With Initial Enrollment

Nov 21, 2013

Amy Dowd
Amy Dowd is director of Idaho's insurance exchange, YourHealthIdaho.org.
Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

Since Idaho’s health insurance exchange launched on October 1, just 7 percent of applicants chose to enroll for subsidized coverage. Amy Dowd is at the helm of operating Idaho's marketplace, and she's pleased with enrollment in the first month.

Still, nearly 19 percent of Idaho’s population under the age of 65 don't have health insurance, and up to 200,000 Idahoans could be eligible for the subsidized coverage or Medicaid through YourHealthIdaho.org.

Q. How did you feel when you learned 338 people in Idaho have signed up for health insurance during the first month the exchange has been available?

A. We were pleasantly surprised. It was very exciting to see the results of all of our efforts for the past six months which resulted in people enrolling and going to the website and filling out an application and learning that there’s assistance available to them. It was very encouraging and we know that people are continuing to apply and enroll in November, so we’re anxious to see the next set of numbers as well.

Q. How many people do you need to sign up?

A. We’re really focused on being self-sustaining by 2016, which is in accordance with the law. So really, our focus for this year, is to get the word out about the fact that there is this new marketplace, the fact that there are health plans available for people to choose from, and that there is assistance with their premiums.

Q. The Idaho Exchange is using the federal portal right now. There have been some issues with the federal portal and people getting on to it. At some point the Idaho Exchange will be operated entirely in Idaho, correct?

A. That’s correct.

Q. When will that happen?

A. We will be working on a migration strategy in 2014, so we will migrate off the federal platform and on to our own Idaho state-based technology. We have a number of the foundational elements of our exchange already in place. That includes help through a toll-free number. It includes the website with resources on how to find assistance and it include in-person assistors across the state of Idaho.  They'll be able to assist people with understanding how they can enroll and what their coverage options are. So we have a lot of the foundational elements of the exchange in place. Obviously, the technology marketplace is the biggest piece of that and that’s our focus for 2014.

Q.  Last month there was a $350,000 no-bid contract awarded to an exchange board member that raised concerns on how contracts should be awarded. There was an independent review and found no legal wrongdoing, though it said there was a lapse in judgment. How has that changed how you’re awarding contracts now?

A. The board made some very good decisions as an outcome of these events. We’ve looked at the conflict of interest polices, we’ve looked at the procurement policies and believe that everyone has understood that the intent has always been to get the resources and the best solution for Idahoans and I think moving forward there will be a little more deliberation around that process and improvements in how we move ahead.

Q. Looking back, would you have done things differently?

A. Oh sure. If I had been able to anticipate the questions and concerns that arose from that, I certainly would have taken a different path, so yes.

Q. The independent review wasn’t released, why wasn’t it released to the public?

A. The board decided and the chairman made an announcement afterwards that due to personnel, confidentiality, that the report would not be released.

Q. The contract controversy and problems with the federal website moved the attention in Idaho away from actually getting health insurance.  What sorts of things are you doing to get people to feel more comfortable with trying to get health insurance?

A. We’ve done extensive community outreach, especially recently. We’ve done a number of sessions in eastern Idaho, a number of sessions going on right now in northern Idaho; meeting people in their communities, meeting with different groups, trade organizations, and really getting the message out that way and allowing people access to a resource that can answer their questions because insurance is complicated.

This concept of being able to quickly go online and make an insurance purchase, similar to booking an airline ticket, I’ve really have never seen those as congruent. There’s a lot more thought and deliberation that goes into a decision on a health insurance policy for yourself and your family. So we really want to make sure we’ve got the resources in a variety of different formats and different languages, targeted to different audiences and their specific needs and that’s really been our approach to getting the word out and helping people understand.

This interview has been edited and shortened. 

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio