Senate confirmation hearings for the board members of Idaho’s government-run insurance exchange will begin later this month, according to Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, chairman of the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee.
“We’ll begin during the last two weeks of January,” Tippets told IdahoReporter.com. “Obviously we have many schedules to coordinate for this, not just those of the legislators but of the board members themselves,” he explained.
Despite a provision in state law that requires it, the members of the exchange’s board members were able to begin their work in April of 2013 without being confirmed by the Senate. Within the bill that the Legislature passed and that Gov. Butch Otter signed last year that created the insurance exchange, a stipulation reads that “the members appointed to the board by the governor shall be subject to confirmation by the Senate, provided that, upon appointment board members shall have full authority to exercise all the rights and duties, and participate in all decisions, required of the position.”
According to Brian Kane, deputy attorney general, Otter was able to navigate around the need for Senate confirmation of the board members because of how he timed their appointments.
“The insurance exchange bill was signed in to law by Gov. Otter on March 28,” Kane explained to IdahoReporter.com on May 21 of last year. “The Legislature adjourned on April 4, and then the governor appointed
the board members on April 10. According to Article 4 Section VI of the Idaho State Constitution, the governor can fill vacancies on boards by himself when the Senate is not in session, so the governor’s appointments stand without Senate confirmation, and this was all done in accordance with the law and the constitution.”
During last year’s session of the Legislature, a central point of debate was whether the Idaho insurance exchange would be overseen adequately by those in elective offices, and are thereby directly accountable to the public, or merely by appointees of the governor.
For example, at a February 2013 meeting of the Senate committee, former Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, said that “legislators need to think very carefully whether or not we want to abdicate our authority to a governing board,” adding “why is it that the governor, the executive branch, seems to have final authority over this?”
Durst was the only member of the committee to vote against the insurance exchange bill. He resigned from the Senate in December of 2013 because he moved out of the district.
Similarly in March of last year, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, debated against the insurance exchange bill, noting that the exchange would be a nongovernmental entity “consisting of unelected folks who will tax us and make our decisions.” During debate on the House floor, he asked fellow House members “Have you really read this bill? If you want a state exchange, then have the state involved in running it for cryin’ out loud.”
As the board members and exchange employees progressed with their work during the course of 2013, they both fell under increasing scrutiny by members of the Legislature and the general public. Scrutiny and criticism hit a crescendo back in October when exchange board member Frank Chan resigned and was then immediately given a $375,000 contract from exchange executive director Amy Dowd without any prior discussion of the matter from board members.
When Dowd disclosed her decision to the exchange’s board on Oct 17, Rep. Kelley Packer (R-McCammon), a board member, told Idaho Reporter.com that she had never been notified of Dowd’s intentions until after the Chan contract was awarded.
Earlier this week, Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, told IdahoReporter.com that “I am concerned about the board of directors (of the exchange). They are not accountable to anybody.” He added that “the fact that a former board member can step down and then be awarded a contract in excess of $300,000 without an open bidding process, that’s a problem. The executive director was obviously under the impression that it was OK, but it wasn’t OK.”
Tippets told IdahoReporter.com that with each exchange board member, his committee will vote to recommend either to confirm or to not confirm, and each of those recommendations will then go to the full Senate.
Tippets did note, however, that he is uncertain at this time whether the three legislative appointees to the board (board positions currently occupied by Packer, Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, and House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston) will be subject to the confirmation process. “I am researching to determine if the legislative appointees need to be confirmed,” he said.
In addition to the three legislative appointees to the insurance exchange board, the list of other board members include: Stephen Weeg, board chairman; Jeff Agenbroad of Since 86, Inc.; Richard Armstrong, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (nonvoting board member); Mark Estess, an executive with AARP Idaho; Zelda Geyer-Sylvia, an executive with Blue Cross of Idaho; Hyatt Erstad, an executive with Erstad and Co.; Margaret Henbest, of Idaho Alliance of Leaders in Nursing; Scott Kreiling, an executive with Regence Blue Shield of Idaho; John Livingston, M.D.; Dave Self, an executive with Pacific Source insurance; Kevin Settles, of Bardenay Restaurant and Distillery; Tom Shores, of the Shores Insurance Agency; Karen Vauk, of the Idaho Food Bank; Fernando Veloz of MS Administrative Services; and Bill Deal, director of the Idaho Department of Insurance (a nonvoting member).
Tippets said that he is unsure at this point what line of questioning he or other senators will pursue with the board members. He said, however, that the governor’s staff sought answers to a questionnaire from prospective board members before their appointment, adding that “the senators will have access to those questionnaires.”
IdahoReporter.com has requested copies of the questionnaires from Otter’s office and is awaiting a reply.