Tea Party hosts pro/con on wisdom of state-based health insurance exchange

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Dr. Lowell Fenwick speaks at Tea Party discussion on implementing a state-based health exchange.

“Long term, this will leave all of us less free, and Idaho, a less sovereign state. We need to say no.”

Dr. Lowell Fenwick, a physician from Coeur d’ Alene and a panelist at the Gem State Tea Party’s debate over a state-based health insurance exchange, drew applause from the audience gathered at the Boise Hotel and Conference Center Monday with that comment and others about concerns for the state implementing a state-based health insurance exchange.

Drawing an audience from throughout the state, the event provided discussion of whether Idaho should comply with the federal government’s mandates to either create a state-based insurance exchange, or do nothing, and allow the federal government to create an exchange for Idaho.

On Dec. 11 Gov. Butch Otter announced that he supported the creation of a state-based insurance exchange, and his plan must now be approved by the Legislature. Opponents of the governor’s decision claim that Idaho should not comply with the federal mandate, while supporters argue that to proactively create a state-based exchange will prevent a federal exchange from being created, and enable Idaho to retain as much control as possible in its own health care markets.

“The federal government is trying to take over the health care industry, and unfortunately, the Supreme Court has agreed with that,” said Tom Shores, a Boise-area insurance agent who served on a panel to examine how the state should approach the idea of an exchange. A supporter of a state-based exchange, Shores added that “next year we will have an insurance exchange, one way or another; the question is whether or not it’ll be a private exchange controlled in Idaho, or will it be an exchange controlled by federal government. We should have had this conversation three years ago, but we didn’t, and now the best we can do is create a state-controlled insurance exchange.”

Opponents of the state exchange argue that Idaho doesn’t necessarily have to act on the federal government’s timetable to create one. In December, Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, told 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.”

“I get the ideology here,” Alex LaBeau, chairman of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, told his fellow panelists and the debate audience. “I wish that we had the option to pursue actual health care reform, instead of just shuffling deck chairs to pay for everybody’s health care. But we don’t have that option before us.”

Arguing in favor of the state exchange idea, LaBeau said that “we can’t just tell the federal government to pound sand.”
During the nearly two-hour event, both Fenwick, and Steve Ackerman, an independent business analyst and adjunct professor at Boise State University, noted that the state of Louisiana is currently litigating the federal government on the grounds that the state should not be forced to carry out federal government programs.

“We should wait and see what the outcome of that law suit is, at the very least,” added Wayne Hoffman, panelist and executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. “I’ll probably still oppose this idea a year or two from now, but we should at least wait and see what the court says in this scenario. We don’t have to act now.”

Yet the proponents of the exchange insist that Idaho must, indeed, act now. “I can’t just simply resist my government, and put my entire business at risk,” said panelist Dr. John Livingston. “I have 110 people who work for me in my various companies, and if I simply refuse to pay taxes or comply with other federal mandates, those 110 people who work for me will be out of work.”

It is anticipated that Otter’s proposal for a state exchange will be presented to members of the Legislature soon.

Noting the historical significance of Monday’s debate, Hoffman told the debate audience that “50 years ago Martin Luther King wrote his famous ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail.’ He was in jail because Birmingham had outlawed public disagreement with the government, and King didn’t comply. Must we necessarily comply with our federal government now? Maybe it’s time for us to be the patriots that we’ve all been waiting for.”

Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

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