Senate committee unanimously OKs consideration of state insurance exchange legislation
Sen. Dean Cameron listens during the introduction hearing for legislation to implement a state health insurance exchange.
“This is Idaho’s Pelosi moment,” said Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth.
He spoke with IdahoReporter.com Tuesday afternoon after members of the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee unanimously approved introduction of legislation that, if it becomes law, will create a health insurance exchange in Idaho.
“We’re being told by the feds to create a health insurance exchange, yet the federal government hasn’t even yet written the rules by which we’ll have to operate the exchange,” Pearce said, as he referenced Nancy Pelosi, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2010, Pelosi famously said of the federal health care legislation, commonly referred to as Obamacare, “We have to pass the bill, so you can find out what is in it.”
“This is not the way Americans, nor Idahoans, want the business of their government to be conducted,” Pearce said.
Since mid-December of last year Gov. Butch Otter has been pushing for Idaho to set up a state-based health insurance exchange. After the U.S. Supreme Court upheld large portions of the law, the 50 states were faced with a federal mandate requiring them to either A) set up a state-based exchange; B) allow the federal government to do it; or C) pursue a “hybrid” approach to an exchange with both state and federal resources.
Tuesday, Otter’s chief of staff, David Hensley, presented the governor’s recommendation for a state-based insurance exchange, and explained to the committee members that the exchange will be fully self-funded. “This will not be a state agency,” Hensley noted. “This will be a private, nonprofit entity, and it will not be able to acquire, or spend, state funds.”
Critics of the exchange plan have made note that Otter’s proposal is being promoted heavily by lobbyists from the health insurance industry, an industry that stands to gain financially if state and federal law requires Idahoans to purchase health insurance. “It seems like every lobbyist available for hire has been hired, and they’re pushing this on us heavily,” Pearce noted. “I don’t think members of the Senate have thought through what it is that is being pushed on us.”
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, a member of the commerce committee, openly acknowledged his own connection to the insurance industry. “I need to disclose that I make my living selling insurance, and I believe that the creation of any insurance exchange will result in less revenue to my business,” Cameron said during the committee hearing. “I nonetheless need to disclose this, and I support the creation of a state insurance exchange.”
Some members of the Legislature argue that Idaho should refuse to create a health insurance exchange as a means of retaining state sovereignty. Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, believes this is the appropriate course, and cites a quote from John Roberts, chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.
In one portion of the Obamacare ruling in which the court approved Obamacare on a 5-4 vote, Roberts notes of states that don’t like the federal health care law, “the states are separate and independent sovereigns. Sometimes they have to act like it.”
“This is our call to oppose the federal government,” Fulcher says of the Roberts’ quote. “We need to say no.”
In his presentation to the committee, Hensley articulated the exact opposite view, noting that complying with the federal mandate is the best approach for Idaho to remain sovereign. “To Gov. Otter, this is a states rights’ issue, and he (the governor) believes that it is essential that we assert our sovereignty by creating an exchange.”
After less than 15 minutes of consideration, the committee unanimously approved that Otter’s insurance exchange bill be advanced. It is anticipated that the bill will be up for further review in the Senate Commerce Committee again next Tuesday.
“I get what Justice Roberts was saying when he referred to the states as ‘separate and independent sovereigns,’” Fulcher told IdahoReporter.com. “Now we need to act like it.”