Will the state insurance exchange, now referred to Ottercare by some, be subject to legislation intended to repeal it? Whether that effort will initially emerge in the House of Representatives, or in the Senate, remains uncertain.
“It will be tough sledding, but I’m ready to make the effort,” said Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby. “The things we warned about the exchange during last year’s debate, the problems we warned about, those things are already starting to happen. It needs to go.”
The Legislature gave final approval to Gov. Butch Otter’s agenda for a government-run insurance exchange on March 21 of last year. A key selling point frequently articulated by Otter and other supporters was that to create a state-based insurance exchange would be to “keep the feds out of Idaho,” whereas if the state failed to create its own exchange, the federal government would establish one in Idaho and thereby intrude in the private affairs of Idahoans.
Consequently, several legislators who voted in favor of Otter’s agenda reacted with surprise when on May 23, two months after the passage of the exchange bill, the exchange’s board of directors moved to build its website on a web platform controlled by the U.S. federal government.
“I would be disappointed if we allowed the feds to come in and provide any management or assistance of our Idaho insurance exchange.” Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, told IdahoReporter.com upon hearing the news. Similarly Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, added that the move to a federal web platform was not “ideal.” Both Youngblood and Malek voted in favor of the exchange’s creation.
Since the move to federal web control, the exchange and its board of directors have been continually dogged with claims of mismanagement and a lack of transparency. The concerns reached a critical point last October when exchange board member Frank Chan resigned from the board and then was awarded a $375,000 contract by executive director Amy Dowd without any involvement from the other board members.
“We were promised that we would be in charge of our insurance and health care here in Idaho, that this wouldn't be Obamacare,” Wood said to IdahoReporter.com. “We are not in control of this. Even at his State of the State address, Gov. Otter noted that he was in communication with Kathleen Sebelius (secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) to try and get her to agree to some of the things he wants to do here. If he has to contact Sebelius, then Idaho is not in control of our health care.”
Wood said that among the few who have registered through the insurance exchange, most are elderly and in need of more health care than younger Idahoans. “I don’t know how we will afford all this long term, but I can assure you none of my constituents wanted this last year and they still don’t today. In fact, most of them are vehemently opposed to it.”
Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, echoed many of the same concerns as Wood. “We can’t afford this,” she commented to IdahoReporter.com. “What the exchange has become is not what was promised and I fully support an effort to repeal it; it definitely needs to go.”
Barrett says that she is unclear if repeal legislation will first emanate from the House or the Senate. However, both Barrett and Wood told IdahoReporter.com that they believe Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, had already crafted a repeal bill.
“I have written a bill to repeal the exchange, yes,” acknowledged Thayn when reached for comment. “I’d be happy if somebody else in the Senate would like to run my bill. However, I’m not focused on it right now. I’m working on ways to reduce health care costs and ways that we can create a cash-based health care market in Idaho.”