The House Health and Welfare Committee voted Thursday to approve House Bill 248, Gov. Butch Otter’s plan for a state insurance exchange, as a means of compliance with the federal Obamacare law.
The hearing lasted nearly four hours with more than three dozen people testifying, most against the governor’s proposal for a state-based exchange.
“Let’s be clear about the Affordable Care Act,” testified Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. “It is socialism. You can’t fix it, you can’t outrun it, you can’t contain or make it better, you can’t outsmart it, you can’t manage it. If you accept some of it, you will clear a path to all of it.”
“My kids are 15 and 12,” Hoffman said during testimony. “They are counting on you, and my unborn grandkids are counting you, to be that last stand and to continue to resist and reject this ill-conceived federal law.”
“I appreciate your willingness to fight this,” Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, stated to audience members at the close of the lengthy testimony period. “But I suggest you take your fight elsewhere, to the federal government. We have heard you, and this is the right thing to do in our state.”
“I need to speak as, I guess, the lone voice of opposition to this,” Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, said prior to the committee vote. “I proposed that we amend the legislation so we cap the fee that Idahoans will be charged for this exchange. I was told that the exchange will not be a state agency, so we can’t legislatively regulate the fees. We cannot safeguard religious conscience in the types of health care services that will be covered. Federal law can safeguard the religious preferences of a college, say a Catholic university, but it doesn’t protect religious preferences with health insurance, and this state exchange will be subject to federal mandates.”
Just prior to the committee vote, Reps. Fred Wood, R-Burley, and Luke Malek, R-Coeur d'Alene, both acknowledged that in accordance with House Rule No. 38, their respective employers “may or may not benefit financially” from a state insurance exchange.
House Rule No. 38 compels legislators to reveal potential conflicts of interest before they vote on legislation. Wood is a medical doctor, and serves as medical director of the Cassia Regional Medical Center in Burley, while Malek is an attorney and business consultant.
All members of the committee except for Vander Woude, on a 10-1vote, approved sending the bill to the floor of the House of Representatives.
“I didn’t know that we were going to vote on this today,” Vander Woude told IdahoReporter.com after the hearing. “The committee is scheduled to debate this bill further tomorrow. I was not informed ahead of time that we would be voting on it today.”
Prior to open testimony, David Hensley, chief of staff for the governor, told committee members that “we know that there is federal money available to build the exchange.” He said that he estimates the cost of the exchange startup to be $20-$30 million.
However, recent cost projections for an insurance exchange have varied significantly from the costs proposed to the governor’s insurance exchange task force last year. For example, on Oct. 29, 2012, Leavitt Partners, a consulting firm from Utah, presented a plan to build an insurance exchange, estimating a price tag of $70 million. On Oct. 9, 2012, the KPMG global consulting firm proposed to the governor’s task force a price tag of $77 million for the same insurance exchange project.
On Feb. 5 of this year, Hensley told the Senate Commerce Committee that the price for the insurance exchange would be $20 million. On Feb. 12, Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, amended language in Senate Bill 1042 (the Senate legislation to authorize the creation of an insurance exchange) and put the price at $30 million. And on Feb. 18, Bill Deal, director of the Idaho Department of Insurance, told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) that an insurance exchange could be built for $20 million.
Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation