Jeff Agenbroad

Sen. Jeff Agenbroad

BOISE — Legislation to extend the length of short-term health insurance plans for Idahoans, addressing a gap in coverage, unanimously passed the Senate on Friday.

“This simply just provides one more option for our Idaho residents to get health care that maybe fits in their budget,” said Nampa GOP Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, the bill’s sponsor.

HB 275 creates an “enhanced” short-term health insurance plan for Idahoans, increasing the amount of time one can be on the plan to comply with new federal rules. With the bill, Idahoans could receive renewable health insurance plans for up to three years. Agenbroad said it’s projected the plans could be offered at up to 50 percent less than standard insurance plans.

Currently, Idaho offers short-term health insurance plans to address the needs of people who are in between jobs, coming off their parents’ insurance, or missed an open-enrollment period, among other circumstances. These plans, however, have a maximum of 10 months and aren’t renewable or consistent with federal regulations, according to Agenbroad. This legislation complies with new federal rules issued in October by the U.S. departments of the Treasury, Labor and Health & Human Services, allowing health insurance plans to become renewable with a maximum duration of 36 months.

The insurance plans, Agenbroad said, would “likely contain the majority of the essential health benefits, but not all, and may be offered on the health insurance exchange.”

“Although these plans themselves would not necessarily meet all of the health benefits, they would likely meet the majority of them,” Agenbroad said.

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According to Agenbroad, an estimated 250,000 Idahoans are uninsured.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, asked Agenbroad to explain the difference between the estimated 60,000 to 91,000 Idahoans who fall into the Medicaid coverage gap and the 250,000 uninsured.

“Any Medicaid expansion may pick up some of those (uninsured), but many of these people, and we’ve heard up to 150,000 people in Idaho in the last four years, have dropped their health insurance plans that would otherwise be insurable just due to cost, and they’re choosing other methods or to go without insurance,” Agenbroad said. “... Their income is at a level such that they don’t have enough enough money to pay for a full-blown plan, but they wouldn’t receive any subsidies.”

Several senators spoke in support of the bill, including Sens. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, and Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls.

“If you’re 62 years old and you lose your job and you lose your insurance, well, there’s not a lot of jobs available with insurance at that age,” Patrick said. “So it’s a way to get to maybe Medicare — this fills in that gap. ... This is a gap population, it’s large. ... It’s a different type of gap, but it’s definitely a need.”

The House-passed bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

Savannah Cardon is the Caldwell reporter for the Idaho Press. Follow her on Twitter, @savannahlcardon, or reach her at 208-465-8172.

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