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Nonini asks for private health exchange, Cronin rails against free market in hearing

Nonini asks for private health exchange, Cronin rails against free market in hearing

Dustin Hurst
February 22, 2012
Dustin Hurst
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February 22, 2012

Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Post Falls, wouldn’t mind seeing the creation of a health insurance exchange, but he wants it done without state or federal dollars.

Nonini introduced a resolution in the House Education Committee Wednesday asking Idaho’s insurance carriers to create their own exchange using their own funds. The measure would have no force of law, but could send a strong message about the coming debate on a health insurance exchange.

The measure passed with strong objections from Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, who railed against the free market’s ability to solve rising health care costs. “This is absolutely mind-boggling,” Cronin complained.

The Boise Democrat, calling some on the committee “free market zealots,” questioned why insurance companies hadn’t taken this step yet. “You cannot say the free market is going to solve this problem when no one has stepped up,” Cronin said. “What has been holding back the insurance industry for the past 25 years, since the exchange idea has been out there for that long?”

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said he doesn’t believe the threat of the federal government setting up an exchange if Idaho doesn’t isn’t reason enough to set up the program using state funds. “I think that’s a pretty poor reason to have a state insurance exchange,” Nieslen said. “I think the industry can create one.”

The resolution may be a starting point in the coming battle over the health insurance exchange. Some lawmakers, like Cronin, are all for taking the federal money to create a state-based program. Others, like Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, and Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, are pushing a state-based program using only general fund dollars.

Yet, there are more lawmakers, like Nonini, who feel government needs to stay out of the process. “I think we are going down a terrible road,” Nonini said. “We don’t need, in my opinion, a bunch of involvement at the state level.”

Gov. Butch Otter originally came out in support of creating a state exchange using the federal money, but has since backed off that position and has said he and members of his administration are weighing other options.

Nonini says a plan with the backing of Wood and Cameron, which avoids using the federal money, still wouldn’t do anything to address rising health care costs. In fact, he says, through taxes and fees on insurance carriers, it would actually add to the problem. “I find every part of it drives up health care costs,” Nonini said. “I just don’t see where the legislation put in front of us does anything to drive down health care costs.”

Instead, he says, it’s time for the insurance carriers to put up the money to pay for a program they want. “They can spend some of their own money and put their own exchange together,” Nonini said.

The measure will now head to the House Health and Welfare Committee for a more thorough hearing.

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