Idaho's top elected leaders signed an executive order on Friday directing the state Department of Insurance to create guidelines for health insurance carriers to offer lower-priced coverage plans.
"Congress and President Donald Trump have eliminated the individual mandate requiring all Americans to buy Obamacare plans or face financial penalties. That means we will no longer be penalized for buying coverage that doesn't meet all the Obamacare rules," Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter said at the Associated Press annual legislative preview. "Now the door is open for states to pursue our own reasonable solutions."
Details about how and what the state insurance agency will do to help develop cheaper health insurance plans remain slim. Neither Otter nor Insurance Director Dean Cameron shared details on requirements health insurance carriers would no longer have to follow. However, Cameron said he plans on releasing more information in the coming weeks about what steps the agency will take.
Cameron added that the goal is to reduce costs for essential healthcare coverage by 30% to 50%. Those plans would not qualify for tax subsidies on premium payments, but carriers involved would have to agree to continue offering plans through the state-based healthcare exchange—Your Health Idaho—where federal subsidies would still be available.
"Gov. Otter's executive order ensures more options, lower prices and continued access to individual health insurance, especially for middle-class working people who don't currently have health insurance because they can't afford it. In the coming weeks, we will further evaluate any guidance issued by the Idaho Department of Insurance and determine the next steps we need to take to offer these new products to Idaho's individual health insurance market," said Charlene Maher, president and CEO of Blue Cross of Idaho, in a prepared statement.
Blue Cross of Idaho is one of the health insurance companies that offers plans on Idaho's exchange.
Otter was joined in signing the executive order by Republican Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who is running for governor in 2018. Otter and Little plan to tour the state over the next few weeks to promote the directive.
Otter defended Little's involvement in the high-profile announcement because of Little's previous work and denied that it was part of an effort to boost his gubernatorial campaign. Otter endorsed Little after deciding not to run for a fourth term.
The move sparked criticism from Little's political opponent, Boise developer and physician Tommy Ahlquist, who has been critical of Otter's closeness to Little's campaign as it nears election day.
"Sadly, this is just the latest example of Boise's career politicians trying to win an election campaigning on Idaho taxpayer dollars. Brad Little supported Idaho's Obamacare exchange, but now says he's against it. Fascinating," said David Johnston, campaign manager for Ahlquist.
Little did not come out against the exchange on Thursday. The exchange would remain in place under the executive order.
U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, who is also running for governor, did not immediately return a request for comment.