Gov. Butch Otter has become a vocal proponent of establishing a state-run online health insurance marketplace – otherwise known as an exchange – but he didn’t put any more funds for Idaho’s in the 2013 budget, even though he has plenty available from the federal government.
Otter gave the exchanges a scant mention in his State of the State address Monday, saying that he left the door open for creation by applying for $20 million in federal grant money. “Still, last September I allowed state agencies to apply for a grant to prepare for the federal law while we continue fighting it in court,” Otter said. “My decision to allow the application to be submitted simply preserved the opportunity for you and all Idahoans to discuss our options and decide what’s best for our citizens.”
Additionally, at the legislative preview last week, the governor told reporters that he fully supports creating the exchange. “I still believe a state insurance exchange is something that would be helpful in providing affordable health insurance to the citizens of Idaho,” Otter said.
Though he says he supports the idea, the governor’s budget did not include the $20 million in federal money granted to the state. Wayne Hammon, Otter’s finance director, told reporters Monday at a budget briefing that the exchange was too unsettled to include in the fiscal year 2013 budget.
Hammon told IdahoReporter.com Tuesday Otter didn’t include the money because he wants lawmakers to decide the fate of the exchange. “It’s up to the Legislature to decide,” Hammon said. “It’s a decision he wants everyone to make.”
The governor could have authorized the money through a non-legislative spending process, but Hammon says time for that has passed and lawmakers must approve or deny the federal funds. “It will require legislative approval before we spend that money,” Hammon explained.
The most vocal opponent of the exchange, Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, told IdahoReporter.com Monday he believes Otter is being safe by not including the federal dollars. “I think it’s great he’s being cautious,” Barbieri said.
Last week in the yearly legislative preview, Barbieri panned the exchange idea, calling it “socialism” that will only grow into a huge bureaucracy with numerous rules and regulations.
The Dalton Gardens Republican wouldn’t predict the exchange’s defeat in the Legislature, but did say the issue could be divisive. “I don’t know how great this fight’s going to be,” Barbieri said. “A lot of lawmakers have concerns.”
Rep. Marv Hagedon, R-Meridian, a member of the Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee (JFAC), says he was “not at all” surprised the money was not included in Otter’s budget. Hagedorn said he expects the money to be included in the Department of Insurance’s budget request when agency officials meet with JFAC.