Senate committee hears a lot of ‘no’s’ on governor’s health care exchange

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[post_thumbnail] Gov. Otter spokesman, David Hensley, testifies in front of the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee.

“We’re looking at 16 mini-czars to try and control one of Idaho’s industries,” testified Eagle resident Joe Kawalec. “Idaho is a sovereign state, and we don’t need to do what the federal government wants, because the feds don’t know yet what they want.”

Kawalec spoke during the open testimony portion of the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee hearing Tuesday on Senate Bill 1042, Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed legislation for an insurance exchange.

“We have a very interesting and complex topic before us,” said John Tippets, R-Montpelier, chairman of the committee. Beginning the hearing before a standing-room only crowd, Tippets stated that “frankly, I’m glad we have a large crowd here to discuss it.”

Last week, after less than 15 minutes of consideration, the committee unanimously approved that Otter’s insurance exchange bill be considered.

Tuesday, committee members heard testimony from David Hensley, Otter’s chief of staff, as well as from several private citizens who asked to speak before the committee.

“This (the insurance exchange) will not be a state agency,” Hensley told the committee, reiterating a point he made last week. “Board members will not be state employees, nor will they be eligible for PERSI (Public Employees Retirement System of Idaho) benefits.”

Hensley also stated that the governor estimates the costs of creating an insurance exchange to be approximately $20 million, and that there are “federal funds available” to cover these costs.

However, on Oct. 29 of last year, Leavitt Partners, a consulting firm from Utah, presented a plan to build an insurance exchange to Otter’s exchange task force, and estimated a price tag of $70 million.  On Oct. 9, the KPMG global consulting firm proposed to the governor’s task force a price tag of $77 million to build an exchange.

“I don’t know why the state wants to re-invent the wheel,” Kawalec told the committee. Noting that he is currently undergoing chemotherapy, he said that “I know how important health care is, but you are not going to make it better with an exchange.”

During Hensley’s presentation, Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, said “I’m concerned about the lack of oversight from the Legislature over this proposed exchange. Why is it that the governor, the executive branch, seems to have final authority over this?”

“This is a model that works,” Hensley noted.  “The governor structured it this way very intentionally, and it is not unusual.”

”A one-size-fits-all approach to health plans from Washington is not right,” noted Fernando Velloz. Identifying himself with the group Employers Health Coalition of Idaho (EHCI). Veloz was the only person to testify in favor of Otter’s plan, and told the committee that “Senate Bill 1042 is a product that fits our needs.”

Calls to EHCI for more information about the group were not returned to IdahoReporter.com.

“Obamacare was passed with a Democrat majority in both chambers of the Congress, and was signed into law by President Obama under the guise that it was a health care reform law,” said Dominic Gelsomino, state chairman of the Idaho Federation of College Republicans. “However, the law was interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court as a tax. It’s a tax that, along with the $16 trillion in debt that already exists in Washington, will bankrupt my generation.”

During the 90-minute committee hearing, much of the discussion focused on whether Idaho, or any other state, has the legal standing to not comply with the federal Obamacare mandate that orders individual states to create insurances exchanges. While the committee members who spoke concluded that Idaho does not have such legal standing, most in the audience disagreed.

”We need to understand that the states formed the federal government, not the other way around,” said Jon Meough, a resident of Elk City. “The states have the ultimate authority here. Congress passed a ‘real ID’ law, yet 33 states, plus Idaho, said ‘no, we will not participate in that.’  This is yet another situation where Idaho needs to say no again.”

At the close of the committee hearing, Tippets apologized for not being able to accommodate all of those who wished to speak. The committee will hear testimony on SB 1042 again this Thursday.

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