The lawyers selected to offer legal advice to the Idaho insurance exchange have ties to at least two groups that lobbied heavily in favor of the program at the state Capitol.
Hawley Troxell, a Boise-based law firm that bills itself as “Idaho's premiere full service business law firm,” won a contract to deliver legal service to the exchange earlier this year.
In the contract, the exchange noted that Hawley Troxell will not have to undertake any project that would conflict with the interests of the Blue Cross of Idaho, an insurance carrier that also retains the law firm.
The disclosure reveals one of the ties Hawley Troxell enjoys with groups that lobbied in favor of the state-based exchange during the contentious 2013 legislative session.
Blue Cross of Idaho was integral in the effort to move the Legislature to adopt the state-based model, hiring an army of lobbyists to ensure the state didn’t allow the feds to run the program.
The Idaho Hospital Association (IHA) joined Blue Cross of Idaho in the public relations and lobbying push. According to disclosure forms filed with the secretary of state’s office, Joe McCollum, a Hawley Troxell lawyer, doubles as the registered lobbyist for IHA and has for a number of years.
All three, Hawley Troxell, Blue Cross and IHA, joined the Idaho Health Exchange Alliance, a consortium of interests that favored the state exchange over the federal plan. The group stumped on the belief that the exchange would foster competition among insurers, increase access to coverage and create jobs.
The alliance rebuffed any and all opposition to the their plan, saying that “there is no question that if Idaho must have an exchange, it would be far better served by creating its own, with input from its own citizens with their welfare foremost in mind.”
While a state-based model and the federal setup would have likely functioned similarly, the state plan offered one aspect the federal structure didn’t: local control of the money.
Under a state plan, then, local firms and eager lobbyists would be able to help steer the cash in any direction.
State Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, sits on the exchange’s oversight board. She told IdahoReporter.com that the agency picked Hawley Troxell due to legal expertise and not political connections.
“They had the talent to get us off the ground,” Packer said.
Board members, under the direction of Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, an attorney, originally considered four law firms for the legal duties, three of which, Packer said, had ties to groups or entities that favored the state model.
It would have been impossible, the McCammon lawmaker said, to pick a law firm without ties to other groups. “Most of the people are helping other people,” she said.
Packer was unaware that Blue Cross of Idaho and the Idaho Hospital Association retain Hawley Troxell for services. “This is news to me,” she said.
Yet, she maintains that the whole arrangement is on the up and up. “They’ve been trying to stay very above board with everything,” she said. “They’ve been very helpful to us.”
Hawley Troxell attorney Michael Stoddard declined to answer questions about the arrangement and directed all calls to the exchange’s communication director, Jody Olson. Stoddard did promise that someone on the Hawley Troxell staff would eventually respond to IdahoReporter.com’s inquiries on the topic.
Rice did not return a call for comment.
This isn’t the first contract doled out to a firm with ties to pro-exchange groups. Earlier this year, the exchange awarded a lucrative public outreach contract to the Gallatin Group, which lobbied state lawmakers on the behalf of Regence Blue Shield of Idaho, the state’s other insurance titan.
That contract also included money for polling, to be completed by GS Strategies. That firm helped in the pro-exchange push, producing for IHA a survey purporting to show that Idahoans overwhelmingly supported the state model.