Idaho: No plan to shift part-timers to exchange

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho government officials haven't discussed mimicking Washington lawmakers who are considering shifting part-time state employees who work less than 30 hours a week to insurance exchanges.

The Legislature in Idaho just passed the exchange only a month ago, and Department of Insurance Director Bill Deal says all his efforts are directed at making sure it's running by Jan. 1, 2014.

Deal wasn't aware of neighboring Washington's proposal when asked about it Tuesday.

"We don't have the luxury" of considering extras, Deal told The Associated Press. Washington state "has been working on their exchange for 2 ½ years."

Washington's legislature in 2011 created its exchange, the online marketplace where the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act foresees individuals and small businesses shopping for insurance.

Idaho had the first meeting of its 19-member exchange board this week and is only just in the process of hiring an executive director, Amy Dowd, a consultant from Oregon who previously worked in Idaho on its exchange plan.

Tammy Perkins, an aide to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter on health care issues, confirmed that Washington's proposal isn't on the table in Idaho, at least for now.

The Washington Legislature is exploring a plan to capitalize on provisions of President Barack Obama's health care law that could allow part-timers to be covered through an exchange.

Some predict $120 million savings for the state government over two years.

But the switch could strain the federal budget that would have to subsidize many of the part-timers premiums — and potentially force state employees to pay more for insurance than they do now.

In a move in 2009 that was disputed by state employees, Idaho began requiring part-time workers — those who work between 20 hours and 29.9 hours weekly — to pay more for their state-sponsored insurance plans.

Some of the then-1,007 part-time workers saw their monthly premiums quadruple as part of the move that saved Idaho about $2.7 million annually.

But Idaho continues to pay a portion of premiums for part-time workers.

For the current fiscal year, for instance, the state pays $285 per pay period for part-time employee medical insurance premiums, as opposed to about $360 per pay period for full-time employees, said Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna.

As a consequence, moving part-timers to the exchange could save Idaho money, if the state ended or reduced its share and shifted costs to the federal government, in the form of potential premium subsidies that policy holders would receive based upon their income.

But Luna says such a shift isn't in the cards. "This is not a discussion that we have had," she said.

Washington's proposal comes as other states are also navigating how to insure their part-time government workers, since the federal law requires employers to provide coverage for those working at least 30 hours.

Virginia aims to skirt penalties by requiring all part-time employees to work fewer than 30 hours. Florida, facing a potential $300 million penalty for not covering workers who have 30 to 39 hours a week, aims to extend coverage to those employees.