GOP senators on opposite sides of creating a state health insurance exchange

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Sen. Cameron believes building a state health exchange is the best option for Idaho.

Idaho state Sens. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, may share many things in common as fellow GOP legislators. One disagreement, however, is how to deal with Obamacare, specifically the idea of a state health insurance exchange.

The law permits the individual states to either establish an exchange on its own, leave it to the federal government set it up or pursue a “hybrid” approach where state and federal agencies collaborate to create it.

“An exchange is a website that provides information about insurance plans and links to their providers,” Cameron explained. “Nothing more and nothing less.”

But Fulcher is not convinced of the value of that approach. “It’s time for Idaho to say no to the feds,” Fulcher told the audience Tuesday attending the annual Idaho Farm Bureau (IFB) convention in Boise. “The federal government doesn’t have the money, and frankly, I don’t think anybody in Washington has the intestinal fortitude to build 50 separate insurance exchanges and force them on to the American people. If we tell the feds that we are not building any exchange, then in all likelihood there won’t be one.”

Cameron, however, disagrees.  “I simply don’t believe that the federal government, certainly not the Obama administration, will sit by and do nothing, and let us do nothing.” Cameron believes the best option is for Idaho to build a state-based exchange, noting that “If we don’t, we’ll have Washington building our exchange at a much higher cost, and requiring us to pay for abortion coverage and other things that many Idahoans won’t want.”

As part of his argument, Fulcher cited 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 stated that “the states are separate and independent sovereigns. Sometimes they have to act like it.”

“This is our call to oppose the federal government, “Fulcher said of the Roberts quote.

“I agree that we need to resist,” Cameron replied, “but doing nothing is not resisting. We need to proactively create an Idaho exchange so one is not forced upon us.”

Both senators acknowledge that many unknowns lie ahead, regardless which course Idaho pursues.

When asked if Idaho could face negative consequences by choosing not to act, Fulcher replied, “I don’t know. Nobody really does. But by not agreeing to any exchange, we’re on better footing legally. Once we agree to comply with the exchange mandate in any fashion, we have given up a portion of our state sovereignty and we don’t want that. And if we stand and say, ‘No, we’ve got 19 friends standing with us.’” Fulcher was referring to the 19 states that have already refused the exchange mandate.

Following the forum, IdahoReporter.com asked Cameron to comment on Fulcher’s assessment that the federal government doesn’t have the means to create an exchange for Idaho. “None of us know for sure,” he noted. “But I do think we need to be proactive, and building our own exchange allows us to take control of our destiny, and I think that’s what Idahoans want.”

The senators spoke to the IFB gathering and took questions for 90 minutes. While they disagree on implementation of Obamacare, they do agree it is a problem.

“This is bad news for everybody,” Cameron said. “Members of the Legislature, our governor, all Idahoans—we’re all in a bad place.”

“It is the fight of our lives,” Fulcher said in agreement with his colleague. “The entitlements in the Obamacare law are on track to take up about one-sixth of our nation’s economy, and it must be stopped.”

Cameron acknowledged that he works in the health care insurance industry, and that the Obamacare matter is “extremely personal” for him. He and Fulcher believe that the Obama administration’s long-range goal is to eliminate private health insurance altogether, and force Americans to use government-provided health care services.

Gov. Butch Otter is expected to express his preference on the exchange issue sometime this month.

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