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Idahoans lose greatly with exchange bill shenanigans

Idahoans lose greatly with exchange bill shenanigans

Wayne Hoffman
February 25, 2013

I’ve always said that the lawmaking process in the Idaho Legislature is a billion times better than the process in Congress. But as proponents advance Gov. Butch Otter’s bill to implement Obamacare, they’re ready to throw out our commendable process at great expense to our state. And for what?

Thursday’s Idaho Senate debate on a state insurance exchange exposed this reality. Several times during the course of a six-hour debate, insurance exchange opponents identified flaws in the insurance exchange bill that ought to even make supporters of an insurance exchange blush:

- The legislation puts no limit on what kind of fee is charged in the exchange, nor does it identify who pays the fee or how much.

- The bill doesn’t address concerns regarding legislative oversight.

- And despite all of its posturing about “state sovereignty” or the need to “actively resist federal actions,” the bill contains no examples of how a state exchange will achieve those ends.

Sen. Monty Pearce called it “Idaho’s Pelosi moment; you have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it.”

Meanwhile, across the Rotunda, a group of 16 freshmen have come up with a bill to amend the now-passed Senate bill. This is highly irregular. Rather than fix an obviously flawed piece of legislation in the Senate, House lawmakers want their bill to be considered as a “fix” to Otter’s broken legislation.

Here’s where it becomes complicated: In order for the House bill to actually repair the Senate bill, the Senate bill will have to “be enacted.” But the Senate bill can’t be enacted until it has passed both bodies of the Legislature and is signed into law. But House freshmen don’t want to act on the Senate bill until their House bill has completely passed. Confused yet? You should be.

Worse, our process for passing bills is so simple, anyone can not only understand it, but they can write their own bills. As long as you understand that deleted statutes look like this and new statutes look like this, you can write a bill, know what’s going on and participate in your lawmaking process.

With the insurance exchange, you have read two pieces of legislation, one in one hand and one in the other, to really know what’s going on. Sounds a lot like Congress.

The House freshmen proposal, therefore, not only monkeys with Idaho lawmaking process, history and decorum, it makes it difficult for ordinary citizens to follow. Of course, even the freshmen can’t really understand what they’re doing. They’re going around telling everyone that their legislation calls for the Legislature to approve any fee increase. Not so. The exchange can raise fees without limit. The exchange need only let the Legislature know about it afterwards. Legislative approval is nonexistent. They’re saying that their bill has a kill switch if the feds change the rules. It doesn’t.

This isn’t, I hate to say it, rocket science. If lawmakers really want a state exchange they control, this is what they’d do: They’d limit the fee, require legislative approval for fee increases, demand that the exchange not be used to sign people up for new government programs, not be used to collect and distribute data on Idaho citizens, not be used to help the feds assess taxes and penalties and give the Legislature oversight if the feds change the exchange rules.

All this obfuscation—state exchange vs. federal exchange—really isn’t about state control or Idahoans at all. It’s about the insurance industry continuing its 50-year control, at a heavy cost to Idahoans and our unique and dignified way of passing bills.

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