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What a state health insurance exchange would mean for patients

By By Jamie Ostroff, Reporter
Published On: Dec 26 2012 04:52:10 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 26 2012 06:54:36 PM CST

A state health insurance exchange is one of the biggest issues facing the Idaho Legislature in January.

REXBURG, Idaho -

A state health insurance exchange is one of the biggest issues facing the Idaho Legislature in January.

Both insurers and health care providers support a state exchange, but patients might not be sure about how a state health insurance exchange program will impact the way they get and pay for medical care.

"The theory is that if you have more people covered by insurance, less bad debt, less costs going into the bad debt that the hospitals have to write off," said Rachel Gonzales, CEO of Madison Memorial Hospital.

The easiest way to explain a state health insurance exchange would be a website like Expedia, but for insurance. Idahoans would be able to access a site set up as a one-stop marketplace to shop for competitive insurance rates.

"It's really going to allow individuals to make a choice about the health insurance plans to best meet their needs, and one that's affordable," said Scott Thompson, a spokesperson for Regence Blue Shield of Idaho.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter decided earlier this month that Idaho will join 17 other states and the District of Columbia in working on some sort of state-run exchange.

If the Legislature votes no on the exchange, Idaho would join at least 23 other states in a federally run program in 2013, when that part of President Obama's health care reform law kicks in.

Insurers and providers both agree that Idaho is a unique state which needs a program tailored to fit its own people.

"Health care is so personalized, from community to community," Gonzales said.  "If you go with something from a federal standpoint, it may not pay attention to the lower, the smaller types of insurances."

Specific details of a state exchange have not been drawn up, so providers warn of some possible bad side effects if the program isn't executed properly.

"Underinsured can still drive up costs, because it doesn't necessarily give you the coverage that you need for a healthier lifestyle," Gonzales said.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates about 17.7 percent of Idahoans do not have health insurance.

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