BOISE, Idaho (CN) - Idaho's response to Obamacare, Your Health Idaho, could be breaking state law, claims a man who says Idaho's federally mandated, state-run health exchange is publishing ads that contain "misleading" information.
Steve Ackerman, a political science professor at the College of Idaho, claims the state's health exchange is violating Idaho Code: Title 41-1304, which prohibits "untrue, deceptive or misleading" information in insurance advertisements.
Ackerman claims Your Health Idaho's ads fit the bill, but no one is paying attention.
"The Department of Health and Human Services reports a number representing how many people have signed up for a plan using the exchange," Ackerman said in an interview.
"That number is misleading and is being used to promote Your Health Idaho. State law says you can't make false or misleading statements in advertising concerning insurance."
Ackerman distinguishes between people who signed up for a plan and those who have actually paid for one, and claims HHS is trying to manipulate public perception of a controversial and problematic program.
"The HHS reports that of the 260,000 Idaho residents that do not have insurance, 30,000 have chosen plans," Ackerman told Courthouse News on Tuesday.
"That number is low, but the concern is that it is very misleading. It only reflects the number of people who 'chose a plan,' not the number of people who actually 'signed up.' You can't say you have sold 6 billion burgers unless people actually paid for them. I think they are trying to make it look like more people are signing up and paying than really are."
Is There Really a Problem?
Governor Butch Otter's press secretary, Jon Hanion, said he was not aware of any violations of Idaho Code for false or misleading advertising involving the exchange.
"This is the first I've heard of it," Hanion said. "I get a lot of inquiries, but it's the first time something like this has come up."
Your Health Idaho doesn't seem troubled, either.
"Because Idaho is using the federal application platform for this first year, we base our metrics on the 'Health Insurance Marketplace: February Enrollment Report' issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on February 12, 2014," Your Health Idaho Director of Marketing and Communication Jody Olson said in an email.
"According to this report, 32,899 Idahoans have completed the application process and signed up for/selected a marketplace plan. We understand these individuals will not be enrolled in their health plan until they pay their first premium to the carrier of their choice. Our advertising says, 'More than 30,000 have signed up,' which is a factual statement."
Your Health Idaho board member, Dr. John Livingston, says he does not believe the exchange is breaking any laws because it is using the only information available.
"We are dealing with identifying metrics," Livingston said. "The problem is that we are dealing with the inadequacies of the federal platform.
"We couldn't build our own in three months, before the start of the first enrollment cycle, so we went with the federal government's platform and we have to work with the numbers they give us.
"It's very difficult to get a firm handle on what products have been bought and paid for until the carriers report it, 30 to 60 days after the fact."