More on Reimbursement

Blue Cross of Idaho unveils bold plan some say is 'breaking federal law'

BC Idaho CEO says new option brings lower-cost services to middle-class. HHS Secretary Alex Azar advises he will weigh in after state findings.

Susan Morse, Senior Editor

Credit: Google Street ViewCredit: Google Street View

Blue Cross of Idaho on Wednesday unveiled Freedom Blue, five new individual health insurance plans the company wants to offer alongside its Affordable Care Act coverage. And the state is already under fire from Congress with Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden saying that it is against the law. 

Blue Cross of Idaho CEO and President Charlene Maher said the current marketplace is not affordable for middle-class families.

[Also: 'Skinny' health plans create questions for marketplace, regulators]

"Our Freedom Blue plans bring more choices and lower prices to consumers," Maher said.

Freedom Blue will let residents choose the benefits they want at premiums that cost up to 50 percent less than similar ACA plans, Blue Cross of Idaho said. The plans will provide access to prescription drug coverage, doctors, specialists, emergency services, urgent care, hospitals, physical therapist and more. 

Whether the plan is legal under the Affordable Care Act, or whether the ACA will be upheld by a Republican-controlled Congress that is also considering repealing or delaying the employer mandate in the law, has yet to be decided. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas confirmed House Republicans are discussing repealing or delaying the employer mandate, according to The Hill.

On Thursday, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden asked new Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to commit to weighing in on the proposed Blues plan within 10 days.

Azar said he needed more time because Idaho has to first decide the issue under its state regulations. 

"I can assure you that if we do receive that we'll be looking at that very carefully and measuring it up against the standards of the law," Azar said.

When Wyden suggested Azar come back before the committee in 30 days, Azar indicated that should probably be enough time.

"Idaho is breaking a federal law," Wyden said, adding the Blues plan was not intending to ask the federal government for permission.

"It's about skirting the ACA law," Wyden said. "This isn't a waiver, Idaho is saying 'we're going to do this.'"

Wyden said the "skimpy coverage" plans would discriminate against consumers who have pre-existing conditions, and would set a precedent.

"This is the one that is really going to determine whether states can determine we're going back to yesteryear," he said.

Idaho Republican Senator Mike Crapo said the plan, as he understands it, would not eliminate pre-existing conditions. 

It does move away from the policy that mandates the only plan that Americans can buy is the one approved by Congress, he said.

"Now, states are seeking to have flexibility," Crapo said. "I don't see a violation. Idaho is still offering ACA compliant plans."

Blue Cross of Idaho came out with Freedom Blue after the state's Republican governor, Butch Otter, issued an executive order in January directing the Idaho Department of Insurance to use flexibility to create guidelines for Idaho health insurers to offer coverage at a lower cost.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer:

Show All Comments