House bill looks to assure insurance brokers have a role in health care exchange options


A government watchdog group says Idaho's public pension retirement system needs $3.5 billion to fully cover obligations.

A member of the Idaho House of Representatives wants to make sure that health insurance brokers are included in any health insurance exchange that may emerge in the state. But at least one of his fellow House Republicans prefers to focus on preventing the creation of any insurance exchange.

“We’re trying to keep health insurance brokers in the ballgame so they can continue their businesses,” Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, told IdahoReporter.com. Luker is a member of the House State Affairs Committee, and Thursday proposed legislation to the committee that would allow health insurance brokers to continue to do business in Idaho if, in fact, a health insurance exchange is established.

Since last year’s Supreme Court ruling that upheld the federal health care law, commonly referred to as Obamacare, Idaho has been at odds as to how respond to the mandates in the law that require a health insurance exchange to be created in each state. According to the law, each individual state must either establish an exchange on its own, leave it to the federal government to set it up or pursue a “hybrid” approach where state and federal agencies collaborate to create one.

According to Luker, the federal law also prohibits health insurance brokers from participating in both state-based and federally created exchanges, and the only way to change that is for a state’s legislature to expressly stipulate otherwise. “States can exercise the option to keep brokers in the process,” he tells IdahoReporter.com. “Brokers are fighting an uphill battle, and I’m trying to take the shackles off of them.”

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, a member of the House State Affairs Committee along with Luker, questions the inevitability of an insurance exchange. “I am still of the mind that Idaho can stop a state exchange, and a federal exchange as well,” he tells IdahoReporter.com. “I do not believe that the federal health care law can require an insurance exchange if it is not the will of the state’s legislature to create one.”

Luker says that by proposing the legislation to enable the inclusion of brokers in an insurance exchange, he’s seeking to retain free market mechanisms in the health insurance industry, an objective that Barbieri supports as well. “If we can’t stop a state exchange, then I’ll do everything I can to introduce free market mechanisms into that system,” he tells IdahoReporter.com. “But that’s a decision for down the line. For now, we should focus on rejecting the state exchange idea.”

On Dec. 11, Gov. Butch Otter announced that he supports the creation of a state-based health insurance exchange as a means of bringing Idaho into compliance with the federal mandates.

“Despite our best efforts, the law remains in place, and almost certainly will for the foreseeable future,” Otter declared at the time, as he explained that he wants an insurance exchange to be created  in Idaho, as opposed to facing the risk that the federal government would create one.  “There will be a health insurance exchange in Idaho,” Otter noted at that time, “the only question is who will build it.”

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, disagrees with the governor, telling IdahoReporter.com that, in his view, “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 onto the American people. If we tell the feds that we are not building any exchange, then in all likelihood there won’t be one.”

Luker’s proposal now heads to the House Business Committee for consideration.

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