Idaho doing something very, very smart: Exchange window shopping to start NEXT WEEK

Hat Tip To: 
Esther F.

A couple of weeks ago, I reported that Maryland, which was one of the states which had embarrassingly bad technical problems with their ACA exchange--and which ended up scrapping their platform completely and moving to an all-new system based on Connecticut's excellent platform--was making some very wise decisions for 2015 based on lessons hard-learned from 2014:

BALTIMORE (Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014) — The second year of Maryland’s health insurance marketplace for individuals and families begins on Nov. 9 when consumers will have access to a newly redesigned website that enables “anonymous browsing,” the ability to compare plans — without registering personal information — before enrolling. This feature is being launched earlier than originally planned to enhance the shopping experience for Marylanders.

...Nov. 9 -- Anonymous browsing begins on Consumers can use the website to learn about available plans, get an estimate of financial assistance and begin comparing their health insurance options without having to enter personal information. This feature will continue throughout open enrollment.

MD is also rolling out the actual enrollment system itself cautiously, gradually working their way from phone/paper applications, to insurance agents only, and finally to the general public, over an 11 day period.

Well, it seems that Idaho--which is the only state moving from to their own exchange this year (New Mexico was going to, but has since decided to hold off another year, I believe)--has also learned a lot from the mistakes made last year, and is actually out-doing Maryland when it comes to one of them:

Your Health Idaho officials tell KTVB they are the first-and-only state that will transition from the federal online platform to a state-run site.

Last year, that federal technology saw glitches and issues, especially during the beginning of open enrollment.

Your Health Idaho's new Executive Director Pat Kelly says they're hoping the new site will be easier to navigate.

"One of the things we really enjoyed about our technology is it is different, it's not a federal site, it doesn't have that look and feel of a government project, it's exactly what Idaho needs," said Kelly.

Kelly says Your Health Idaho staff are now working around the clock, including weekends to get the site ready.

The first chance to view it will be October 1st, when you can start shopping for plans.

Yup, that's right: Idaho is not only confident that they've gotten their ACA exchange right technically, they're also allowing people to compare plans (window shop, etc) a full six weeks before the open enrollment period starts.

I applaud both states for doing this (6 days for MD, 6 weeks for ID). Last year, along with all of the other horrible technical, management and policy decisions made regarding the various exchanges, the one which I found most appalling was the decision at Healthcare.Gov to not allow anyone to "window shop" until after they had already created an account, entered all of their income/citizenship information and so forth.

This was a pure policy decision: They were afraid that too many people would get sticker shock if they saw the unsubsidized premium rates (even if they clearly marked them as such), so they decided to force everyone to jump through all of the application/enrollment hoops first. This was both a PR and technical mess, because not only did it confuse and frustrate people, it also caused a huge logjam of people who weren't planning on enrolling right that moment but wanted to at least see what their options were first.

This decision was one of the first major changes reversed a few weeks later, thankfully...and this year, MD & ID are wisely going one step further, letting people comparison shop before the actual floodgates open to make their purchase at all.

Frankly, the 6-week lead time surprises me, since I didn't even know if Idaho's exchange policy rates had even been finalized yet (some states have, some haven't to my knowledge). Apparently they have, though...

There are also some other improvements for Idaho:

...Last year, there were 146 policies for medical and dental on Idaho's marketplace.

This year, there will be 198.

...Kelly says the extra plans will be at the silver and bronze level, since those were the most popular last year.

There will also be another carrier, Mountain Health Co-op, bringing the number of insurance providers up from four to five.

Mountain Health Co-op will join Blue Cross of Idaho, BridgeSpan, PacificSource, and SelectHealth.