- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idahoans who buy their health insurance through the state-based health exchange will have more options but face higher costs while shopping for coverage for 2016.

The third year of sign-ups for coverage through yourhealthidaho.org begins Sunday. That means people have until Dec. 15 to sign up for insurance - or switch policies - to ensure coverage will begin on New Year’s Day.

Pat Kelly, executive director of Your Health Idaho, says the exchange will offer more than 200 plans.

He added that people should take advantage of the exchange’s free agents and brokers to find the best plan.

“We’ve been focused on the consumer experience for a long time,” Kelly said. “There may be a few small things that are different this year, but most of the changes will be totally seamless.”

However, the average costs of those plans have gone up. Blue Cross of Idaho Health Service will have plans 23 percent higher than in 2015. Montana Health Cooperative - an insurance provider based in Montana that also offers plans for Idaho residents - will have a 26 percent rate increase. SelectHealth has requested an average rate hike of nearly 15 percent.

Meanwhile, assessment fees applied to plans offered on the exchange are also changing. The fees will increase from 1.5 percent to 1.99 percent to help cover operating costs. State law bans Idaho lawmakers from allocating state taxpayer money to help pay to keep the exchange running, meaning the fees are the sole revenue source.

The rates and fee increases come at the same time the exchange is becoming financially sustainable now that the federal government has cut off funding for state-based exchanges. Starting in 2016, Idaho will need a jump in enrollees to raise $9 million annually to operate the exchange. If not, officials say they’ll have to dip into the $7 million reserve fund.

Officials have said that Idaho’s exchange is on track to see 8 percent growth for both 2016 and 2017. Currently, 85,000 Idahoans are enrolled in the state exchange.

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