President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) health care reform law is being phased in around the country, with approximately half of the states, including Idaho, setting up insurance exchanges in compliance with the law and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) gearing up to enforce the law.
Yet in Idaho, many of the individuals and organizations that supported the formation of the Obamacare agenda or its related state insurance exchange indicated in a survey that they will not be participating in the state exchange, primarily, they said, because they don’t need to.
IdahoReporter.com contacted several (but not all) of the legislators who voted in favor of Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed state-based insurance exchange with one question: Do you intend to purchase health insurance from the state-based exchange?
IdahoReporter.com also contacted several (but not all) of the private organizations that lobbied in favor of the insurance exchange law and asked: Will your organization be purchasing employee insurance plans from the state-based insurance exchange?
Some individuals and groups refused to answer the questions. But among those willing to go on the record, the responses were almost universally “no.”
“I elected to participate in the state health plan,” Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, noted. Her reasoning is similar to that of Rep. Doug Hancey, R-Rexburg, who said one of the benefits of being a state legislator is state-provided health benefits. Said Hancey: “Part of my compensation as a legislator is a health benefits plan. I simply don’t need to purchase private insurance right now.”
The Idaho chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has been supportive of the Obamacare law for more than three years. In March of 2010, AARP spokesperson David Irwin criticized Otter for signing the Idaho Health Freedom Act, a law which sought to shield Idahoans from being forced to purchase health insurance. Otter supported the act, but subsequently announced in late 2012 that he supported the creation of a state insurance exchange.
Earlier this year, lobbyists representing AARP of Idaho testified in favor of the insurance exchange in both Senate and House legislative committees.
Yet on July 23 AARP communications director Randy Simon told IdahoReporter.com that AARP has no intention of purchasing employee health insurance plans through the state insurance exchange. “It is my understanding the Idaho state insurance exchange is only going to offer individual coverage,” he stated in an email message. “AARP already offers its employees group health insurance coverage.”
But the Idaho state-based insurance exchange will indeed be selling group insurance plans, a point raised by House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a member of the exchange’s board of directors. “Employers with fewer than 50 employees will certainly be eligible to purchase insurance through the exchange,” he told IdahoReporter.com.
Rusche noted, however, that neither he nor his wife will be purchasing individual health insurance plans through the exchange and that both of their respective employers have more than 50 employees and will thus be ineligible to purchase group plans through the exchange.
Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, said that he will neither be purchasing individual insurance nor any group insurance plans for employees of his law firm from the exchange. “Our firm does not provide health insurance benefits,” he told IdahoReporter.com. “We each have our own benefits through another source, either from a spouse's employer, for example, or in my case through the military and from the state. Our firm is small enough we do not fall under the federal insurance mandate.”
Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, told IdahoReporter.com that he will “probably not” purchase individual insurance from the exchange. Youngblood works as a vice president for Syringa Bank, but indicated that he did not know if his employer would seek to purchase employee insurance plans from the exchange.
Catholic Charities of Idaho lobbyist Christine Tiddens argued in favor of the insurance exchange before the Senate Commerce Committee on March 19.. She stated that “our goal is to secure affordable health care for all of Idaho.” On July 31 Tiddens told IdahoReporter.com that the organization does not intend to use the exchange for the purchase of employee benefits.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, who also operates a law firm, reports circumstances that are somewhat similar to Lakey’s. “We have a different approach that we take for ourselves with our insurance needs,” he told IdahoReporter.com. “I honestly haven't gone that far in my thinking just yet as to how my business may need to adapt so as to comply with the federal health care law.”
One possible exception to the pattern of “no” among respondents came from Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene. Noting that he will soon be getting married, Malek told IdahoReporter.com that this will likely change his outlook on insurance. “Like most Idahoans, we will weigh carefully what protection we feel we need in case of emergencies and to cover our preventive costs,” he stated. “Will we look at all our options? Yes.”