Board puts controls on health exchange work

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho’s insurance exchange board backed new rules Wednesday meant to keep insiders from profiting inappropriately from ties to the Internet health care marketplace — a response to a no-bid contract worth up to $375,000 awarded to a former board member.

The board decided that members who leave the volunteer panel appointed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter must wait at least 12 months before securing paid work with the exchange unless two-thirds of the panel votes to waive that restriction.

“I think it’s appropriate,” state Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell and an exchange board member, said after the four-hour meeting.

“That removes the temptation completely,” Rice added. “It allows the public to feel confident in the integrity of the exchange.”

Earlier this month, Your Health Idaho exchange director Amy Dowd struck a $180 an hour deal with former board member Frank Chan without board approval or competition from other bidders. Amid criticism of the contract, the board later curtailed Dowd’s contracting powers.

Last week, Chan canceled the contract that called for him to oversee the building of a state-based exchange enrollment system to replace the glitch-plagued federal software the state is currently using to implement President Barack Obama’s Internet-based plan.

Still, the exchange board has hired Frederick Mack, a private corporate governance lawyer, to review how the pact between Dowd and Chan materialized.

Mack told Your Health Idaho board members the bill for his investigation won’t exceed $15,000 and he should be finished within a week.

He didn’t return a phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment on the scope of his probe. Chan also didn’t return a phone call.

Since the Oct. 1 rollout, insurance exchanges across the U.S. have been dogged by enormous problems. Idaho has been no exception, with problems fueling a big worry among exchange leaders: People who really need and want health insurance coverage may become so disenchanted that they’ll simply give up.

For instance, it could be weeks before Your Health Idaho includes an online tool to allow prospective insurance seekers to easily compare and shop for policies, while determining their potential income-based federal subsidy.

Additionally, some prospective buyers have been turned away from federal call centers, said Your Health Idaho operations manager Alberto Gonzalez, adding that the state’s own 10-person call center in Boise has become “sort of our crisis center” to field complaints.

Given the hurdles, Gonzalez told the board, he’s advising people now seeking coverage to first call an insurance agent, decide on the appropriate policy that fits their needs, and only then contact a federal call center by telephone to complete the transaction — hopefully with somebody willing to take the call, he said.

“They’re going to go pre-Internet,” Gonzalez said, conceding it’s a solution that harkens back to an era before the Web.

In the meantime, Idaho has delayed its initial $3.5 million marketing campaign for the exchange. It’s now being evaluated on a weekly basis until many of the problems have been remedied, exchange spokeswoman Ysabel Bilbao said.

“I don’t think you should advertise frustration,” said Kevin Settles, an Idaho restaurant owner on the exchange board.

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