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Legislature obligated to revisit the state exchange mess it created

Legislature obligated to revisit the state exchange mess it created

Wayne Hoffman
October 28, 2013

I'd like to go a month without having to address the state health insurance exchange. There are so many other obscenities in Idaho public policy requiring attention: Proposals to raise taxes in towns across the state; cities using military-grade equipment in little Idaho towns; cronyism posing as economic development.

It’s really not my fault that the exchange continues to be a festering sore. And that’s why the 2014 Legislature may well find itself addressing the controversial issue all over again. Failure to take it up the insurance exchange in some way would represent a dereliction of duty.

Still, the most recent headlines are a product of our state policymakers' actions. Lawmakers and Gov. Butch Otter put in no sideboards to prevent the exchange from entering into big-dollar contracts with friends and admirers.

Former exchange board member Frank Chan’s $375,000 sweetheart deal was abhorrent and an embarrassment. The lawmakers who voted for the exchange say the arrangement was “indefensible.” If they’re intent on keeping the exchange, those legislators must prove they’re sincerely outraged by making the exchange adhere to the same standards as the rest of government.

And that includes a litany of other contracts for which consanguinity between board members and winning contractors is conspicuously close. The law firm for the exchange represents Blue Cross, whose CEO sits on the board; the firm hired to market the exchange is also the lobbyist for Regence Blue Shield, whose president is on the exchange board.

And because the Legislature was so determined to have a hands-off approach to the exchange, making it an independent creature of government, the exchange is exempt from the public records law. But the exchange sets itself up for recalcitrance by saying it will abide by the state's public records exemptions as well as “such other categories as the Exchange may designate.” That’s the exception that swallows the rule.

Thus if, at some point, the exchange decides to hide some embarrassing content from public view, it need only produce an excuse to create an exemption that would block the public’s right to know.

Additionally, the exchange creates a headache for citizens looking to investigate exchange activities by demanding written requests for records be submitted on a special form that needs to be notarized. In my career in journalism and public policy, I have filed hundreds of public records requests, never needing to get a single form notarized.

Finally, some lawmakers are starting to take note that Idaho's "independent" insurance exchange merely redirects Idahoans to the federal government's infamously broken website. Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, who voted for the state exchange, said the other day that's not quite what he thought he was voting for.

Even if the Legislature opts to do nothing, 14 exchange board members need to appear before a Senate committee for confirmation and 14 separate Senate floor votes in 2014. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

My preference is that our one-year dalliance with socialized medicine be put to bed. Repeal the bloody thing. Mistakes can be forgiven. Failure to recognize an error, or stubborn adherence to fantasy, is less forgivable.

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