Idaho’s Otter May Take Another Month On Exchange Decision

By John Miller | November 20, 2012

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter will take up to another month to decide whether Idaho will build its own health insurance exchange – or opt for an exchange created by the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had previously said Friday was the deadline for states to make a decision. But on Thursday, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave governors until Dec. 14.

In a statement on Friday, Otter said the extension will provide additional opportunities to answer lingering questions about which model is best for Idaho – despite a recommendation handed down in October from an independent panel appointed by the governor telling him to adopt a state-based, nonprofit exchange.

“I don’t want us buying a pig in a poke, so with this extension I’m hoping we’ll get answers to the questions and concerns we’re hearing from legislators and the public,” said Otter, using one of his folksy idioms to describe his fear of getting snookered by adopting something before he has all the information. “This extension gives us more time to get answers from Health and Human Services about what the federal requirements will be.”

Under President Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, states can establish online marketplaces for uninsured individuals and small businesses to compare and shop for insurance products, with many of them eligible for subsidies.

Alternatively, states can partner with the federal government _ or let an exchange be run from Washington, D.C.

On Oct. 26, Otter’s panel voted 10-2 to recommend he push for an exchange that’s designed for Idaho, rather than simply letting the federal government dictate much of the terms of policies that will be offered to potential customers.

That’s something that, in particular, insurers in Idaho including Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence Blue Shield and Pacific Source Healthplans, have been arguing is the best approach, to keep federal intervention in the state’s insurance markets to a minimum.

Some states are already moving ahead with their own exchanges, including Idaho neighbors Washington and Oregon.

Now that states have longer to decide, some are doing just like Idaho and putting off the decision. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration remained noncommittal, as did leaders in Arkansas and Oklahoma, among others.

Meanwhile, officials in some conservative bastions remained adamant about rejecting anything resembling cooperation with what they term as “Obamacare.”

On Friday, for instance, Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal reiterated to Sebelius his concern that federal rules being promulgated to govern the exchanges would weigh down his state’s small businesses. Absent a change of heart, Georgia residents will get a federal exchange.

About John Miller

Associated Press
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