Gov. Butch Otter defended what appears to be a change of direction on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or the federal health reforms of 2010, at the Capitol Thursday at the annual legislative preview.
Otter, who has voiced his support for the insurance exchange program as a part of the ACA, once said that it, as part of the larger bill, wouldn't help bring down health care costs.
In March 2010, Otter had two chances to voice his distaste for the ACA. On March 17, 2010, Otter signed the Idaho Health Freedom Act, a bill authorizing the state to sue over federal health reforms, which it did just weeks later. At the signing ceremony, Otter slammed the federal reforms. "This health care bill does nothing to make health care more affordable," Otter said at the time, adding that the state should work to add more health providers to help bring costs down.
Just four days later, Otter, upon the final passage of health reforms, issued a statement again panning the bill. "Big federal programs aren’t the answer," the governor wrote. It’s even more important now for patients and practitioners, hospitals and health insurers, employers and employees to work together, because Congress and the White House got it wrong. All this will do is keep states and the marketplace from making health care more affordable and accessible while imposing a legacy of untold debt on our children and grandchildren.”
But at the Capitol Thursday, Otter said that he has always been for the exchange idea. "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.
Otter said that states like Utah and others which had created their own exchanges prior to federal health reforms provided a model for other states. "We had seen that other states were doing that," Otter said.
The governor also wrote a guest opinion on Dec. 29 pushing lawmakers to create the exchange. "The Legislature will need to act with the best interests of Idaho and our citizens in mind," Otter wrote. "In the coming weeks we will be working together to weigh all our options and the potential outcomes associated with each of them."
The health exchange issue figures to one of the hot topics of the 2012 session. House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, told IdahoReporter.com earlier this week that there is "considerable opposition" to exchange creation.
Idaho has more than $20 million in federal money to use for exchange creation. That might be a tough sell, though. Legislators peeled $2.5 million in different federal money for exchange research from the Department of Insurance's budget last year.
Update Jan. 11, 2011: The governor’s office wishes to clarify the governor’s stance on the exchange program. Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary, said the governor supported a state-based health exchange program prior to the March 2010 passage of federal health reforms. Hanian also said Otter applied for the federal exchange money only to leave options open for legislators.