Highlight on Idaho: State raring to go for open enrollment

Idaho’s health landscape looks to be in good shape right now, except for a nasty case of salmonella from some contaminated cucumbers. Beyond that, the health exchange has passed an audit and is ready to go for the next open enrollment period while the push for closing the existing coverage gap continues.

Your Health Idaho

Your Health Idaho, the state’s own health insurance exchange established under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148), just passed its annual audit. The audit was conducted by an independent firm, and revealed no large issues. The report indicated that the exchange submitted a progress report after a federal deadline, but the officials running the exchange used it as a learning experience and responded by expanding the exchange’s staff and making some policy changes.

The success of Your Health Idaho stands in contrast to the struggles of other state exchanges. Several  state exchanges have failed financially, especially the health co-operatives, and those states have resorted to using the federal exchange. Idaho cannot use any state taxpayer funds to keep its exchange operational, but the state has managed to be successful nonetheless.

As the open enrollment period looms, starting November 1, 2015 and running through January 31, 2016, Your Health Idaho is ahead of the game. The exchange held a town hall meeting in Twin Falls September 29, 2015, with the chairman of the board, Stephen Weeg. He spoke to local insurance agents about the future of the exchange, as well as functionality and specific concerns about this year’s enrollment period. The exchange hopes that the agents will see that they are attempting to make the enrollment process as smooth as possible this year.

Medicaid expansion

For those Idahoans that cannot afford care, many are still pushing for the state to accept federal funding and expand Medicaid to cover an additional 78,000 citizens. Some state legislators are reluctant to accept federal funding, concerned that the funding will not remain available. Others have general objections about the ACA itself. Those that advocate for closing the coverage gap say that almost half of the patients at some health care facilities fall into this gap, and need the extra help. During Governor Otter’s visit to Albion, a woman testified about her situation, emphasizing that she and her husband are working hard but need a little extra help to afford care.

The Healthy Idaho proposal would expand health care coverage to low-income workers who do not qualify for current forms of aid or insurance through their employers. This plan would provide financial assistance for those at and slightly above the federal poverty line to purchase coverage on Your Health Idaho, with provisions for the assistance to decrease as incomes grow. Those below the poverty line would enroll in Medicaid’s Care Management Plan, which promotes cost efficiency and personal responsibility. The plan would attempt to save costs by requiring co-pays for emergency room use for non-emergency situations, an assigned primary care provider, cost-sharing, and quality-based payments to providers. According to the website, this plan would save the state $173 million over the next decade.

Don’t eat the cucumbers

A national outbreak of salmonella in cucumbers sold between August 1st, 2015 through September 3rd, 2015 has caused at least 21 Idaho residents to become ill. These cucumbers were grown in Mexico and sold by a San Diego company, Andrew and Williamson, under their “Limited Edition” brand. Idaho officials are concerned that more people may become ill from the contaminated vegetables because they are unaware of the recall. This outbreak involved three different strains of salmonella, and has caused at least 558 illnesses in 33 different states.