The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has disclosed that it is facing some financial challenges with the implementation of Obamacare, the federal health care reform law. The announcement has raised concerns with both state and federal elected officials within Idaho.
“I’m now left wondering about how out state insurance exchange will be funded,” said Sen. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett. Having voted “no” on the state Senate insurance exchange bill earlier this year, Thayn spoke with IdahoReporter.com about a story in the Washington Post indicating that the U.S. Congress has cut off additional funding for the implementation of Obamacare.
According to the report, Kathleen Sebelius, HHS secretary, has begun asking health care providers, insurance companies and church-based charity groups to donate money to private, nonprofit insurance exchanges around the country so the exchanges can complete their work of implementing the Obamacare program.
Thayn told IdahoReporter.com “part of the rationale behind legislating Idaho’s insurance exchange was the understanding that federal funds would be available to create it. I’m now concerned that Idaho may begin spending state funds on this when, in fact, that was never supposed to happen.”
Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, who voted “yes” on the state insurance exchange bill and who now serves on Gov. Butch Otter’s insurance exchange board, shares some of Thayn’s concerns.
“It certainly raised red flags for me,” Packer said of the report about HHS. “I can tell you, however, that none of the expenses of the insurance exchange have been paid yet, and no state funds have been spent on it. I've even had some expenses of my own, traveling from McCammon to Boise for board meetings. None of my expenses or any other expenses related to the exchange have been paid, and they won’t be until we have the federal exchange funding that we have been promised.”
Packer also told IdahoReporter.com that Idaho has recently received one of the smaller federal grants intended for the state insurance exchange, valued $375,000; that a larger grant of $20 million which HHS had promised Idaho earlier in the year has been appropriated to the state; and that both checks should be deposited in the insurance exchange bank account soon.
While state officials have been fretting about funding for Idaho’s insurance exchange, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo has raised concerns about the possibility of conflicts of interest with HHS soliciting private donations.
“We absolutely see the potential for conflicts,” said Crapo spokesperson Lindsey Nothern. Crapo issued a press release earlier this week expressing this concern, but Nothern elaborated on those concerns with IdahoReporter.com. “When a federal agency that regulates a business pressures that business to help support a favored government initiative, that’s definitely a potential problem” Nothern stated. “If any private company is pressured to financially support Obamacare, we’d like to know about that immediately.”
Packer agrees with Crapo’s concern. “I agree with Sen. Crapo,” Packer told IdahoReporter.com. “But I also want to stress that we are not going to implement something at the state level that is not funded at the federal level, and we will not let the federal government mandate this thing and then abandon their commitments to us. If the feds let this thing fall through, then we’ll be done with it, too.”